Saturday saw Havana hosting its biggest pride ever, as thousands marched in the streets—doing the conga at times—in a show of community and a call for equality ahead of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Leading the parade by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro and the head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. Also celebrating were trans actress Candis Cayne, Freedom to Marry leader Evan Wolfson and Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida, and 100 visiting LGBT tourists from the States.
The event was the first Pride since President Obama eased travel restrictions from the U.S. to Cuba, and many hoped it signaled a growing connection between the island’s LGBT people and the international community.
“I’m no expert and am here to learn, listen, and share ideas, including a better understanding of Cuba’s pathway to the freedom to marry,” Wolfson told the Miami Herald. “Nearly 70% of the people of Latin America now live in a freedom-to marry-country. The Cuban people deserve no less.”
Almeida, who is Cuban-American, said he was eager to meet with marriage equality advocates, and to celebrate Pride in the city of Matanzas on Tuesday. “I hope this is the first, but not last time I can invite my Cuban relatives to join me in celebrating LGBT pride.”
Prior to the legalization of homosexuality in 1979, gays were seen as anti-revolutionary and many were harassed, discriminated against or even thrown in work camps. Until 1993, people living with HIV/AIDS were quarantined in state-run sanitariums.
Mariela is the de facto leader of Cuba’s LGBT equality movement, and has called on her father’s government to grant more rights, including civil unions. “The Cuban people are prepared to advance themselves,” she told reporters.
But her closeness to the Castro regime—and the fact that she is heterosexual and married to Italian photographer Paolo Titolo—makes some question her motives.
Below, Cayne posted images from her trip on Instagram