As Barriers Fall, Cuba Hosts Largest Pride Celebration In Country’s History

"Nearly 70% of the people of Latin America now live in a freedom-to marry-country. The Cuban people deserve no less."

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.

Members of the gay and lesbian community participate in a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty

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.

Members of the gay and lesbian community kiss as they participate in a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty

“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.”

A member of the gay and lesbian community participates in a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty
A member of the gay and lesbian community makes as selfie during a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty

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.

Cuban director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, participates in a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty

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

Dr. Mariela Castro-Espin and I talking about Equal Rights today #Cuba #LGBT #love #trans

A post shared by Candis Cayne (@candiscayne) on

A post shared by Candis Cayne (@candiscayne) on

Last night in Havana

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A post shared by Candis Cayne (@candiscayne) on

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Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery