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Cuba’s LGBTQ community is living a week of celebrations and controversy

May 11 marked a year since an independent march took place in Havana

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(Photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba. Tremenda Nota published this article on their website on May 20.

HAVANA — This past Monday the LGBTI+ community celebrated the first anniversary of the march of May 11, 2019, when several hundred people demonstrated in Havana. This protest followed the cancellation of an official event for the LGBTI+ community that had taken place every year for a decade.

The independent march was also inspired by the previous year’s debates about Article 68, a proposed revision to the Cuban Constitution that would have allowed marriage equality. Article 68 was suppressed in the new Constitution’s final revision, which was submitted to popular referendum in February 2019, creating tension between the community and the Cuban government.

The government responded to the May 11 march with violence, dispersing the crowd with dozens of policemen who arrested activists and other participants. It also discredited the event in official state-run media.

This police violence drew parallels with incidents such as Stonewall, an iconic moment for the international LGBTI+ movement, and caused May 11 to be considered by some activists as the Day of the LGBTIQ Cuban Movement.

Taking this perspective, the Miami-based influencer Alex Otaola celebrated the anniversary with an online forum on Monday morning. Otaola is known for his show “Hola Ota-Ola”, where he has promoted controversial campaigns against artists who publicly sympathize with the Cuban government.

That afternoon, independent LGBTI+ activists who work in Cuba — that is, those unaffiliated with the Cuban government — held their own virtual forum. The forum was broadcast on Facebook after a hacking attack reportedly disabled the website originally planned to host it, according to complaints the organizers shared by social media.

The activist Jancel Moreno told Tremenda Nota, “At about 9 a.m., I could no longer access my page ‘Give Me Your Hand.’ After I complained publicly about this, my mobile data connection completely disappeared.”

The forum organized from Havana began hours late because of the hacking, which Moreno denounced.

The majority of the forum’s panelists were activists who participated in the march of May 11th and analyzed the LGBTI+ community’s challenges, including the upcoming debate about revising the Cuban Family Code. This revision represents the country’s best chance to legalize marriage equality, among other rights and protections for LGBTI+ Cubans and their families.

They also related their experiences of May 11 and spoke about its historical significance.

For example, the poet and critic Norge Espinosa Mendoza described the independent march as “a turning point in the history of the relationship between political powers and diverse sexualities in Cuba, a history that’s densely packed, fragmented, and very complex.” Espinosa was among the activists who first waved a rainbow flag at a public event in Cuba more than 20 years ago.

“What happened on May 11th can definitely be understood as a phenomenon that gave voice and visibility to other needs of Cuban society beyond sexuality,” he said.

Activists disagree with the boycott of CENESEX workers

Above-mentioned influencer Alex Otaola is a South Florida-based opinion leader of the Cuban exile community. He said this Monday that the Cuban LGBTI+ movement is “divided” because many of those who drove the march of May 11, 2019, refused to participate in the special anniversary program he hosted from Miami.

“There’s a group that participated in that march but didn’t want to celebrate with us today because they think … that I’m a very politicized figure and that it won’t be the kind of homage the event deserves.”

The activist Ulises Padrón mentioned Otaola’s program in a Facebook post, where he said that “his histrionic approach to politics, his oversimplified arguments, and his incitement of hate keep him from presenting a more heterogeneous picture of Cuba.”

But Victor Manuel Dueñas, a supporter of Otaola’s virtual event, and Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, an exile activist in Washington, believe that some participants in the 2019 march represent an activism “built in the Obama era specifically with the objective of creating a vision of opening, a vision of independence for the LGBT movement.”

Durung the virtual event, Dueñas launched a petition asking the U.S. government to cancel visas and financing to employees of Cuba’s National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX), who are referred to in the text as “ex-government officials.”

Cenesex, led by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, is an official state agency whose social mission includes assuming the leadership of LGBTI+ activism in Cuba.

Dueñas’ petition denounces recent statements in which Mariela Castro spoke about the forced labor camps established by the Cuban government in the 1960s. People considered a threat to Cuba’s revolutionary society were sent away to the camps, including political dissidents and homosexual men. Castro’s statements minimized the human rights violations reported to have taken place at these camps.

The petition argues that, based on these recent statements by Mariela Castro and other reasons not fully explained, the U.S. State Department should prohibit a dozen people involved with CENESEX from entering the U.S. to prevent “the financing of the National Center of Sexual Education by institutions and individuals in U.S. territory.”

At time this article was published, the petition has more than 4,000 signatories on change.org, a platform that cannot be accessed from Cuba.

Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, one of the petition’s authors, told Tremenda Nota that Mariela Castro is already prohibited from entering the U.S., but that “she can send some of those who are mentioned in the petition” in order to “raise funds for her agency.”

Mayeta was unable to confirm for Tremenda Nota whether in fact CENESEX currently receives any funds sent from the U.S.

Tremenda Nota inquired about this point with Manuel Vázquez Seijido, one of the government officials named in the petition to the State Department.

Seijido, deputy director of CENESEX, said that the agency will not issue any statements about alleged funding from the U.S. and that there was “no news” in the petition by the exile activist community.

Some independent activists who have worked with CENESEX or have accessed its services made statements on their social networks about the petition.

“Yesterday Otaola tried to draw all the attention around [May 11] to himself. During his show, apart from hosting guests who all share a single political position (it should have been more diverse), he made statements and petitions far from the program’s stated purpose,” said Ulises Padrón referring to the petition promoted on Monday.

Padrón opined that “to disallow the activities of [CENESEX] and the activism it promotes represents an infantile, dangerously ideological attitude.”

Mel Herrera, a transsexual woman who collaborates with the independent publication “Q de Cuir” (“Q as in Queer”), said on Facebook that “thanks to CENESEX, I’ve been able to realize many of the goals I had for myself, and this has helped me stay away from the possibility of suicide.”

She emphatically stated, “Don’t count on me for this boycott.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lawsuits against Ohio State over sexual predator sports doctor tossed

“The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” Steve Snyder-Hill said then adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it”

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Screenshot via WBNS-TV, CBS News 10, Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Oh. – A Federal judge Wednesday dismissed hundreds of pending lawsuits against Ohio State University, (OSU) in cases related to a former OSU sports team doctor Richard Strauss, who had sexually molested young male athletes and other students for twenty years.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio wrote;

It is beyond dispute that Plaintiffs, as well as hundreds of other former students, suffered unspeakable sexual abuse by Strauss. It is also true that many Plaintiffs and other students complained of Strauss’s abuse over the years and yet medical doctors, athletic directors, head and assistant coaches, athletic trainers, and program directors failed to protect these victims from Strauss’s predation.”

According to Judge Watson he dismissed the cases because the statute of limitations for criminal rape cases in Ohio is 20 years to report for criminal prosecution or otherwise have legal proceedings initiated.

“If there is a viable path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State, it starts with the legislature rather than the judiciary,” Watson wrote.

Taking aim at Ohio lawmakers Watson noted; ““At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature, has the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations.” The legislature can provide a “path forward for Plaintiffs on their claim against Ohio State.”

Strauss preyed on hundreds of young men from the time of his employment at OSU in 1978 until he retired in 1998, and allegations about his misconduct didn’t become public until an ex-wrestler named Mike DiSabato spoke out in 2018, years after Strauss’ death by suicide in 2005.

The former athletes were represented by several legal teams including Washington D.C./Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group Public Justice.

Today’s ruling is not only deeply disappointing,” the legal team said in reaction to the ruling today, “but also sends a disturbing message that the very real challenges sexual abuse survivors often face in understanding what has happened to them – and who enabled the abuse they experienced – is irrelevant when they ultimately ask for the court’s help in holding abusive people and institutions accountable.

OSU spent decades denying, hiding, and evading the truth about its role in concealing the abuse that happened on its watch. Today’s ruling punishes survivors already traumatized by the university’s callous campaign of deception. The court’s decision cannot, and must not, be the final word in the survivors’ journey towards justice.”

The case against OSU brought widespread attention as one of the cases involved Strauss victim Steve Snyder-Hill, a a prominent LGBTQ activist and a U.S. Army veteran. Upon hearing of Watson’s ruling, a palpably angered Snyder-Hill told several media outlets; “The judge just threw 300 survivors in a trash can,” he said adding, “a trash can with an OSU logo on it.”

Steve Snyder-Hill (Screen shot via WCMH-TV, NBC 4 Columbus, Ohio)

NBC News had reported on the case and profiled Snyder-Hill in 2019:

[…] In the years following the alleged assault, Snyder-Hill would go on to serve in the Iraq War, publicly fight against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and become an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage. He and his husband, Josh, married in 2011 in Washington, D.C., in front of the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War veteran who had been discharged by the Air Force for being gay. The couple were involved in a lawsuit filed by Service Members Legal Defense Network that challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented the military from giving benefits to legally married same-sex couples, and successfully fought in court to have their surnames combined in Ohio.

Snyder-Hill was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight in 2011 after submitting a question during the Republican presidential debate about whether the candidates would reverse the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Some members of the audience booed Snyder-Hill, who submitted his question by video from his military base in Iraq. That an active-duty soldier in uniform would be booed during a presidential debate shocked and angered many Americans during a time when acceptance for same-sex marriage was mounting. […]

The publicity over the OSU cases also ensnared conservative right-wing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), renewing questions over his failure to stop Strauss from molesting former wrestlers Jordan had coached more than two decades ago at OSU. Jordan was accused of that neglect in 2018 by those former wrestlers.

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National

2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults live in the US

More than one-third are living in low-income households

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Graphic via Fenway Health LATINX Center, Boston, Massachusetts

LOS ANGELES – A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that an estimated 2.3 million adults in the U.S. identify as Hispanic or Latino/a and LGBTQ.

Researchers found that Latinx LGBTQ people fare worse than their non-LGBTQ counterparts on some measures of economic and social vulnerability, including unemployment and food insecurity. In addition, Latinx LGBTQ adults face disparities in mental and physical health such as depression, asthma, and chronic health conditions compared to non-LGBTQ adults.

However, similarities were found between the two groups, including household annual income and experiences of victimization and discrimination.

This study provides information on the well-being of Latinx adults in the U.S., as well as additional analyses of Latinx LGBTQ subgroups, such as Mexican, Central American, and South American LGBTQ people in California.

“In terms of economic security, we see both similarities and differences between Latinx LGBTQ and non-LGBTq adults,” said lead author Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “The fact that Latinx LGBT adults tend to be younger may contribute to  disparities in employment and food insecurity, while U.S. citizenship—which many Latinx LGBTQ adults in California have—may help close the poverty gap.”

KEY FINDINGS

Demographic Characteristics

  • There are an estimated 2.3 million Latinx LGBTQ adults in the US.
  • 65% of Latinx LGBTQ adults are under age 35, compared to 45% of non-LGBT adults.
  • Just over half (52%) of LGBTQ Latinx adults are women, and 48% are men. 
  • Fewer Latinx LGBTQ adults (44%) than non-LGBTQ adults (57%) are raising children.

Economic Characteristics

  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are more likely to be unemployed (10% vs. 8%) and to experience food insecurity (32% vs. 25%) than Latinx non-LGBT adults.
  • 37% of Latinx LGBTQ adults and 39% of non-LGBTQ adults live with a household income below $24,000 per year.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults are less likely to live in low-income households than non-LGBTQ adults, however, the rates of poverty are high for both groups: 60% of Latinx LGBTQ adults live below 200% of the federal poverty level, compared to 63% of non-LGBTQ Latinx adults.

Mental and Physical Health

  • Nearly one-third (30%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults have been diagnosed with depression, compared to 16% of Latinx non-LGBTQ adults.
  • Latinx LGBTQ women have the highest rates of depression (35%) compared with non-LGBTQ women (20%) and both groups of men.
  • Latinx LGBTQ adults (12%) are more likely to have Medicaid as their primary insurance compared to Latinx non-LGBTQ adults (9%).

Discrimination and Stress

  • 17% of Latinx LGBTQ adults disagreed with the statement “You always feel safe and secure” compared to 11% of non-LGBTQ adults.
  • 42% of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported experiencing physical assault and threats, and 69% reported experiencing verbal assault or abuse at some point in their lives.

Social Support

  • The majority (64%) of Latinx LGB adults and 40% of Latinx transgender adults reported feeling connected to the LGBT community.
  • Less than half (43%) of Latinx LGBTQ adults reported feeling connected to the Latinx community.

This study is part of the Williams Institute’s LGBTQ Well-Being at the Intersection of Race series, which examines demographic characteristics and key indicators of well-being, including mental health, physical health, economic health, and social and cultural experiences, of different racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. The series also includes analyses by region.

Read the report

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Congress

Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment legislation reintroduced

The legislation has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage beginning with its initial introduction in 2011

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Photo courtesy of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

WASHINGTON – Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, along with Democratic U.S. House Representative Mark Pocan, also from Wisconsin, reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act Wednesday.

If enacted, the legislation would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place a policy that prohibits harassment of students based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Schools would have to distribute that policy to all students, along with information about the procedure to follow should an incident of harassment occur, and notify students of counseling, mental health, and other services available to victims or perpetrators of harassment.

The legislation would also require schools to recognize cyber-bullying as a form of harassment, and would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to help colleges and universities establish programs to prevent harassment of students.

“No student should live in fear of being who they are at school,” Baldwin said in a statement. “By reintroducing this legislation, we are taking a strong step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to learn and succeed in safe and healthy environments. Everyone at our colleges and universities deserves to pursue their dreams free of harassment and bullying.”

The lawmakers action was to mark eleventh anniversary of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s death, a suicide, after he lept from George Washington Bridge which connects North New Jersey to New York City on September 22, 2010. 

The Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death just days after his college roommate broadcast live images on the internet of him having a sexual encounter with another man. Fellow students Dharun Ravi, who was Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei were later charged. Wei struck a plea deal with prosecutors and a New Jersey Superior Court judge sentenced Ravi to 30 days in prison and three years probation for his actions.

The proposed law has failed to garner enough congressional support for passage over the past decade in beginning with its initial introduction in the 112th Congress in 2011. 

During a dedication ceremony on Monday February 4, 2013 of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, (D-N.J.) announced that he and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) had reintroduced the legislation in Congress.

The legislation failed to get the required support for passage and it again languished.

Last year in the 116th Congress, it was introduced again by Pocan in the House and Murray and Baldwin in the Senate in May 2019.

“Today we honor the life of Tyler Clementi by reintroducing this critical legislation. No one should be bullied because of who they are or who they love,” Pocan said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure that students can learn in peace and not have to worry about living in fear or humiliation for being themselves.”

Tyler’s parents founded a non-profit organization in their son’s name committed to end online and offline bullying, harassment, and humiliation.

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