Cuba to host international LGBT conference for the first time ever

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Cuba will next week host an international LGBT conference for the first time ever.

According to the Washington Blade, more than 400 people from across the world will travel to the communist country, for the sixth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) Regional Conference.

Although homosexuality has been technically legal in Cuba since 1979, it was not until Raúl Castro took power from his brother in 2008 that the first gay rights marches were permitted, and there are still no discrimination laws, or recognition of same-sex couples.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, was part of the committee that helped organize the conference, to be held in Varadero, just outside the capital Havana.

She has been a prominent supporter of gay rights in the past, openly praising Barack Obama for supporting same-sex marriage, and leading pro-gay protest marches.

A statement from IGLALAC said:  “Cuba is not exempt from the problems of the region’s LGBTI communities.

“Although the Cuban LGBTI movement does not have the organization of other international movements, the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the country is now evident with more impact and achievements.”

MassEquality board member Robyn Ochs noted the conference would be the first time she had set foot in Cuba, saying: “I’ve long been interested in transnational conversations. I hope to learn a great deal.”

However, some Americans have criticised the decision to hold the event in Cuba, given long-standing diplomatic rifts.

US congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said: “Hosting a conference on LGBT rights is just another farcical attempt by the Cuban regime to pretend they care about anyone’s rights.

“The sad reality is that the Cuban people are harassed, beaten and bullied for having a point of view that differs from the regime’s.

“This desperate move to seem tolerant does not even come close to obscuring the repressive reality on the island.”