On Monday, 24 October, IIRE hosted a closed roundtable discussion for 25 local LGBT activists with Mariela Castro Espín, director of Cuba’s national centre for sexual education (Cenesex) and daughter of the late revolutionary feminist Vilma Espín Guillois, and Camilo García, International Relations Officer of Cenesex and member of the Cuban Communist Party. The intimate encounter provided a moment of reflection and learning, exchange of experiences and a space to discuss current strategies of LGBT emancipation in both Cuba and The Netherlands.
Among the various organisations represented were: Edudivers, Ojala, Rec Latina, SAP-Grenzeloos, Transvisie, Transgender Netwerk Nederland, Transmen and the Antillean-Dutch Pink-Orange Alliance. Social activists and scholar Melisa Soto-La Fontaine chaired the meeting that was guided by three points of discussion and transversal themes. The three points of discussion were: (1) the state of struggle against homophobia in Cuba and The Netherlands, (2)Transgender rights/challenges and (3) Queer activism vs. Sexual Self-determination. Transversal themes included race and class, which was elaborated by local activists of colour.
In the discussion, Mariela Castro identified Cuba’s institutionalised feminist movement (Federation of Cuban Women) as the leading actor of that country’s LGBT movement. Her narrative, garbed with political analysis and discourse, touched upon the importance of looking at LGBT emancipation, as part of the project to construct socialism. Local activists shared their perspectives on discrimination, legal challenges and the high-jacking of LGBT issues by extreme right-wing populist forces, in addition to discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each subgroup working autonomously. Former IIRE Co-Director, Peter Drucker, welcomed the special guest with a copy of his publication Different Rainbows, a pioneering collection of essays which give a sample of some of the most interesting work being done on the lesbian and gay movements in various Third World countries including Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, India and China.
Mariela Castro’s visit to IIRE was part of a Netherlands tour by which she and her colleague Camilo García, met with professionals and experts at Amsterdam’s Free University, the Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Hague-based Institute for Social Studies-Erasmus and the Prostitute Information Centre.