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My vote on behalf of those who are excluded

Democracy does not exist in my homeland of Cuba

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Yariel Valdés González, left, and his boyfriend, Sebastian Cabral, in front of their home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Photo courtesy of Yariel Valdés González)

In my 30 years, I have never elected the president of my country, and it is not something I say with pride, but rather with shame. I should have voted for at least three presidential candidates at this point in my life, but that possibility where I come from was exterminated like a deadly pandemic.

There are no presidential elections in Cuba, but rather elected members of the National Assembly who elect the president themselves. This deceptive and convenient electoral system was manufactured several years after the triumph of the 1959 revolution and allowed the same man to govern for 49 years. Fidel Castro fell so in love with power that only a deadly disease could take it from him in 2008.

At that time, he transferred the reins of power to his brother, Raúl Castro, who established 5-year presidential terms. The president was allowed to run for re-election, but the same electoral system remained in place. How convenient! At the age of 87 and tired of steering a ship aimlessly for a decade, Castro appointed Miguel Díaz-Canel, a 58-year-old engineer who he previously trained, as a presidential candidate.

My homeland’s president-designate, however, is a carefully stitched marionette puppet who is handled by very thin strings that tell him what to do or say, since it is the Castro dynasty that truly commands the Communist island’s destinies behind the scenes.

Díaz-Canel, therefore, did not have to win the applause of the masses with government proposals. He did not run against opponents for months; nor did he face them in nationally televised debates. Díaz-Canel was elected mechanically and unanimously by 605 National Assembly members locked in a room, not by the more than eight million Cubans registered to vote.

Still, no one can dispute his “leadership.” Cuba does not recognize or legalize the opposition as normally happens in democracies. The brave few who stand up to the regime are persecuted or imprisoned as criminals, accused of receiving money that the United States sends them to “subvert” the “sovereign and democratic order chosen by the people.”  

As a journalist in Cuba, I was accused by the dictatorship of being part of “subversive campaigns” that independent media launched against the dictatorship and that, according to them, seek a regime change, when in truth I only wanted to show the world the harsh reality of my people.

I spent 11 months in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisons after I asked for asylum in this country. My departure to true freedom, just seven months ago, has coincided with the epilogue of the presidential election in the United States, in which I still do not have the right to participate.

Even so, being a spectator of this process is extremely exciting. Coming from a dictatorship without presidential elections to a country with one of the strongest democracies on earth is a 360-degree turn, one to which I am still assimilating and beginning to understand.

For the moment, my vote, like that of millions of immigrants, will be excluded. That does not mean, however, that I cannot join the electoral fervor prior to Nov. 3.

It’s a weird feeling, I confess. So many years of inexperience cannot be recovered at once. At times I feel shy, even fearful. It takes some time to get used to the idea that nothing will happen to you for speaking against the president himself.

One of my first contributions was to place a banner in support of Biden with my boyfriend in the garden of our apartment. That small poster was, for me, the unequivocal sign of the political freedom that I now have and that for so many years was taken from me.

Then a friend, a fervent pro-Biden activist in Fort Lauderdale, invited me to a rally in support of the former vice president. When I saw myself there I knew that I was really contributing to the good of this nation.

In some way, supporting the candidate who I think is the right one is my way of doing something good for this country, of returning the favor for it welcoming me, of saying thank you: Thank you for allowing me to choose, thank you for protecting me from intolerance, thank you for setting me free, thank you for letting me grow, dream, live …

My contribution to American democracy will definitely not be in statistics, nor will it arrive by mail. My vote is not secret or personal. I throw my vote into the wind every time I go out with a Democratic flag; when I hold up a sign in the name of the blue candidate; when I jump excited if someone honks their car horn as a sign of sympathy; when I put my thumb up if a Trump supporter shows me his is down; when I travel the streets in a caravan urging everyone I see to vote.

Because in this country voting can make a difference, especially in Florida, a state that has been key in the last presidential races and where a large immigrant community resides, which grows stronger every day. 

Proof of this is the sum of the current electoral contest of more than 23 million naturalized immigrants in the United States who are eligible to vote, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, which represents approximately 1 in 10 eligible voters in the United States. A new record.

I will not be able to vote in the next election either, but I will be closer. Meanwhile, I will continue to raise my voice for myself and on behalf of the millions of excluded. My contribution may not be taken into account now, but definitely no one will be able to silence it anymore.

Yariel Valdés González is a Los Angeles Blade contributor from Cuba who has received asylum in the U.S. He spent more than 11 months in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody before his release on March 4, 2020. Valdés lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with his boyfriend.

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Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee

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[Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Alberto J. Valentín | It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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Happy Mother’s Day

The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

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The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

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Rich privilege on full display- Hannity interviews Jenner and it wasn’t pretty

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner.

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LOS ANGELES – Fox News pundit and anchor Sean Hannity interviewed realty television star Caitlyn Jenner on his show Wednesday evening and it frankly was a hot mess.

Jenner, who announced a week ago that she’s running to replace California Governor Gavin Newsom in the likely recall election this Fall, gave Hannity her take on issues that was Trumpian and clueless to outright enraging at times.

Vox journalist Aaron Rupar live tweeted the show, capturing some of the arguably worst of the discourse with Jenner pontificating on subject matters that she clearly doesn’t have a firm grasp of.

For instance, on California’s homeless crisis: Jenner said: “My friends are leaving California. My hangar, [ Jenner is a pilot and has her own aircraft ] the guy right across, he was packing up his hangar and I said, where are you going? And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona, I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless'”

Jenner again disparages Trans youth athletes: Jenner explains that she’s opposed to transgender girls playing sports against other girls. But then in the next breath she says she wants to be a role model for transgender girls.

“Forest management is extremely important” Jenner’s comments about wildfires reminded Rupar of former President Trump’s clueless remarks.

Next she claims, well take a listen yourself:

This next part is rich. “You’re pro *legal* immigration” — Sean Hannity puts words in Caitlyn Jenner’s mouth when she talks about immigration. Jenner responds by saying, “sorry, did I miss the legal part? Thanks for catching me. You’ve got my back, Sean, I appreciate that.”

Then there’s her take on trains. Jenner wonders why high speed rail is needed between LA and SF since people can just fly

Then she muses that Trump did a better job than Biden is doing which is completely vapid and devoid of substance

Mercifully it ended…

I reached out to a Trans activist of note for comments on the Hannity interview, who angrily asked why I would consider giving Jenner any more oxygen.

I explained that sadly in the toxic world of Republican politics circa 2021 in a post-Trump presidency world there are those right wing extremists who will hold Jenner up as an ‘authority-figure’ and as a spokesperson for Trans people, and worse will cite Jenner as an example.

Jenner needs to be marginalized, people need to hear loudly and clearly that she absolutely does not speak for the LGBTQ+ community and that her bigotry towards young Trans people is harmful and dangerous.

While Jenner’s candidacy and ‘policy’ positions may well be perceived as a joke, what does need to be taken seriously is her ongoing attacks on the Trans youth who just want to participate in sports.

Electing not to comment the activist agreed.

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