In continuation of the commemoration of the 70 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba, Themuseum invited Dr. Mariela Castro Espin, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, to hold a lecture titled “Raising LGBTQ Awareness Through Art.” The lecture, held Nov. 23, is one of many aspects of the exhibit <em>The Havana Dialogues — 70 Years of Canadian-Cuban Diplomatic Relations</em>.</p>
Castro Espin, daughter to the current Cuban president, is one of the biggest leaders in Cuba in advocating for LGBTQ rights and spreading the messages of the many issues involved with the community and homophobia through art.
“I am an advocate for sex education in Cuba, and have been working towards creating positive change for almost 30 years,” said Castro Espin, according to a press release from Themuseum. As well as being a director, she is also an active member of the National Committee of the Federation of Cuban Women, and chairs the specialized magazine, Sexología y Sociedad (Sexology and Society). Castro Espin is also the president of the National Commission for the Comprehensive Care of Transsexual People and is part of numerous international committees relating to gender and sexual health.
Castro Espin met with members of the LGBTQ community in the Waterloo Region to hear their stories and to learn from the resources in Canada. “Though we are different countries, we can learn a lot through each other,” explained Castro Espin. After a tour around the resources in Southern Ontario, including Toronto, she went on to question “How in Canada, if there are so many resources, why are there suicides in the LGBTQ community, when in Cuba, where there are no resources, there are no suicides?” This blanket statement was later on answered when an audience member raised the question of the Cuban government’s annual survey, and Castro Espin replied that it is difficult to get an exact number of members in the LGBTQ community in Cuba due to the high amount of homophobia in the country. Many times family members are not aware or will not accept that other members are not heterosexual.
“The Gay Pride Parade that I had seen in other countries, I didn’t think was going to work in Cuba,” said Castro Espin. “The Cuban homophobia would not accept it and our objective is not to provoke but to gain allies.” Her solution was to propose a “Conga against Homophobia and Transphobia,” hoping to avoid the “patriarchal” sense she understood in other Gay Pride Parades. “We thought it would be better to focus on the problem: homophobia, not being gay,” explained Castro Espin. The Congas are gaining popularity in Cuba and Castro Espin invited all present at the lecture to join them in Havana in May 2016 for the next Conga.
The fight against homophobia is omnipresent in Cuba, but Castro Espin and her team have planned to spend the next two years focusing on homophobia in the family, the two after that on homophobia in the workplace, and lastly two years on homophobia in the education system. The homophobia and transphobia they are currently fighting in the family is evident through Castro Espin’s story about how a gay family member found his grandmother, in the Conga and had to explain that the Conga she was dancing in was to abolish homophobia and transphobia. The grandmother who had taken part in the dancing to support Castro Espin, left promptly after realizing that Castro Espin was advocating for the LGBTQ community. The grandmother did not realize her grandson was gay.
Something Canada can learn from Castro Espin and her advocating is the rhetoric used. “We do not promote segregation. We call ourselves the LGBTQHI,” explained Castro Espin. “The H stands for heterosexual, because if we use the word community we are segregating them, and we are all part of only one community.”