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Hundreds participate in first-ever Cayman Islands Pride parade

Territory’s governor, premier among marchers

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Upwards of 600 people attended the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands on July 31, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation)

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Upwards of 600 people participated in the first-ever Pride parade in the Cayman Islands that took place on Saturday.

Caymanian Gov. Martyn Roper, Premier Wayne Panton and opposition MP Barbara Conolly are among those who participated in the parade that the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, a local advocacy group, organized.

Caymanian authorities required that all participants were vaccinated against COVID-19. Noel Cayasso-Smith, founder and president of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, on Monday told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday during a WhatsApp interview that his group did not allow alcohol in the parade and “discouraged” public displays of affections “in order to maintain a respectful event.”

“This is the first time in history the Cayman Islands has ever been able to put on a Pride,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I’m excited because we had no protesters. We had no negativity throughout the entire parade.”

Cayasso-Smith said he and members of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation decided to organize the parade, in part, because the pandemic has drastically reduced travel to and from the Cayman Islands. Cayasso-Smith noted hotels, condominium associations, restaurants, bars and local businesses all supported the event.

“Pride month came in and you know for every year I got really tired of seeing our Cayman people leaving to go to Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Canada to enjoy themselves for Pride,” he said, while noting the travel restrictions that remain in place because of the pandemic. “We thought it would be great to have our Pride here since we’re in our own little bubble.”

The Cayman Islands is a British territory that is located in the western Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba.

The Caymanian government in 1998 refused to allow a gay cruise ship with 900 passengers to dock. Religious officials in the British territories pressured authorities to prohibit an Atlantic Events vessel from visiting the territory.

Cayasso-Smith, who was born in the Cayman Islands, told the Blade that “growing up here has been very difficult for me as a gay person.” Cayasso-Smith lived in the U.K. for 13 years until he returned to the Cayman Islands to help his family rebuild their home after Hurricane Ivan devastated the British territory in 2004.

“I decided to stay because I thought, you know, I should be able to live in my country as a free gay man where there’s no laws restricting me from being who I am,” said Cayasso-Smith. “I feel that as a gay man contributing to the island I should have the right to live free.”

Caymanian Grand Court Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2019 struck down the territory’s same-sex marriage ban. The Caymanian Court of Appeal a few months later overturned the ruling.

The territory’s Civil Partnership Law took effect last September.

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Cuban lawmakers approve draft of new family code

Proposal could pave way for marriage equality

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — Cuban lawmakers on Tuesday approved a draft of a new family code that could pave the way for marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country.

Cubadebate, an official news website, reported the National Assembly approved the draft that does not contain a specific marriage equality provision. The proposal, however, states it would “protect all expressions of family diversity and each person’s right to build a family in coherence with the (Cuban) constitution and its principles of equity, non-discrimination and human dignity.”

Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro who is the director of the National Center for Sexual Education, is among the members of the National Assembly who spoke in favor of the draft.

“It will guarantee the rights of groups of people whose realities were not sufficiently understood at the beginning of the revolutionary process,” said Mariela Castro before the vote, according to Cubadebate.

Mariela Castro in her comments referred to the Cuban revolution that brought her uncle, Fidel Castro, to power in 1959.

The Cuban government after the revolution sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAPs. Cubans with AIDS were forcibly quarantined in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

“This bill does resemble the society in which we live: A complex, diverse and plural society,” said Mariela Castro.

Cubadebate reported Cubans will have a chance to comment on the bill during a “popular consultation” that will take place from Feb. 1-April 30, 2022.

Cuban voters in 2019 overwhelmingly approved the draft of their country’s new constitution, but independent LGBTQ activists sharply criticized the government’s decision to remove a marriage equality amendment before the referendum on it. Tremenda Nota, the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the government has not announced when a referendum on the new family code will take place.

Tuesday’s vote took place less than six months after anti-government protests took place across Cuba.

Tremenda Nota Editor Maykel González Vivero is among the hundreds of people who were arrested during the protests.

Yoan de la Cruz, who is gay, used Facebook Live to livestream the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province.

Authorities subsequently arrested De La Cruz, and they are seeking an 8-year prison sentence for him. De La Cruz’s trial reportedly began on Dec. 13.

Yoan de la Cruz is a gay man who broadcast to the world the first videos of the anti-government protests in Cuba that took place on July 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)
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Cuban activist prevented from leaving home ahead of planned protests

Raúl Soublett López is director of Alianza Afro-Cubana

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Raúl Soublett López (Photo via Raúl Soublett López's Facebook page)

HAVANA — Cuban authorities have prevented an LGBTQ activist from leaving his home ahead of anti-government protests that are scheduled to take place across the country on Monday.

Alianza Afro-Cubana, a group that advocates for LGBTQ Cubans of African descent, in a tweet said authorities have not allowed its director, Raúl Soublett López, to leave his home in Havana’s Plaza neighborhood “to go to work as a teacher.”

“Today they have prohibited me from leaving my home,” Soublett told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday, referring to Cuba’s state security.

The Communist island on Monday reopened to tourists after a 20-month lockdown because of the pandemic. Authorities in recent days have targeted human rights activists, journalists and others who publicly criticize the government.

Maykel González Vivero, editor of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the hundreds of people who Cuban authorities arrested during anti-government protests that took place across the island on July 11. Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestreamed the first July 11 protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños, a municipality in Artemisa province, faces an 8-year prison sentence.

Tremenda Nota reported State Security agents on Oct. 9 interrogated Soublett and threatened to charge him with “mercenarism” because he made a series of videos that highlight his group’s efforts to fight racism and homophobia in Cuba. The interrogation took place on the same day that President Miguel Díaz-Canel met with a dozen LGBTQ activists who work with the National Center for Sexual Education, a group that Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro, directs.

The Cuban Justice Ministry in September released a draft of a proposed new family code that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Tremenda Nota has reported the National Assembly is expected to vote on the new family code next month. A referendum on it would then take place.

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Jamaican health minister expresses support for LGBTQ community

Christopher Tufton spoke about mental health care access

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Jamaican Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton. (Photo courtesy of Jamaican Health and Wellness Ministry)

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Jamaican Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton last week said people who access his country’s mental health care system should not experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Mental health services have been experiencing a number of reviews. For the LGBT community, clearly, I do not know what the specific concerns are, but I would say, as a blanket statement, that we promote the concept of non-discrimination in terms of access, and any service that we offer to the population would include all segments of the population,” Tufton said on Nov. 3 during a forum the Jamaica Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, organized.

“I think the whole issue of the LGBT community and non-discrimination has evolved, and frankly speaking, I think it is getting better,” continued Tufton. “In fact, there is more accessibility and more willingness to provide service without any prompting or punitive oversight measures.”

The Jamaica Gleaner said Tufton made the comments in response to a question that Glenroy Murray, the interim executive director of Equality for All Foundation Jamaica, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, asked.

Equality for All Foundation Jamaica has created two handbooks that specifically outlines ways to ensure LGBTQ Jamaicans don’t suffer discrimination when they access mental health services. The Los Angeles Blade has obtained a statement from Tufton in which he applauds the organization’s work on the issue.

“It is well recognized that mental illness is highly stigmatized, even at the primary care level, which, for many people, is the first point of contact with the health system,” said Tufton. “Due to this stigma, individuals will either avoid or delay seeking care for fear of being treated differently from others, fears over losing their jobs or out of concern for their relationships within family and friends.”

“This, in turn, can result in poor health outcomes and the loss of productive years,” he added. “Persons from the LGBT community will have an additional layer of stigma due to sexual orientation or gender identity and are therefore at higher risk of poor outcomes than other persons living with mental illness.”

Tufton in the statement also notes “this stigma is driven, at least in part, by a lack of knowledge among mental health practitioners.”

Jamaica is among the dozens of countries around the world in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity also remain commonplace on the island.

An 18-year-old man last month was hospitalized in critical condition after a group of men in the resort city of Montego Bay targeted him on a gay dating app.

Kelly West, a transgender Jamaican woman, was one of the 47 people who were living at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, on July 12 when the Blade visited. West said she asked for asylum in the U.S. because of the anti-trans discrimination and persecution she suffered in Jamaica.

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