...While authors as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene have extolled the worldly sophistication of Havana nightlife, homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized in Cuba until 1979, following decades of harsh judicial treatment. The very real dangers associated with public displays of same-sex affection increase exponentially the farther one travels from Havana’s urban core. Yet Cuban attitudes toward gay people have evolved significantly in the past few years, thanks in part to an unexpected and powerful ally.
Mariela Castro Espín is a slender, pale, and elegant mother of three children. Married to an Italian photographer, she is straight, even though some Havana gossips suggest otherwise. She is also the 47-year-old daughter of President Raúl Castro, who last year officially succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, as head of state.
As director of the government-run National Center for Sex Education, or CENESEX, Castro Espín has used her guile and familial clout to push for gay rights in a country where hard-labor “reeducation” camps were once vaunted as an antidote to homosexuality. “Homophobia in Cuba is part of what makes you a ‘man,’ ” she says through a translator. “Boys are taught to have violent reactions so they can show their masculinity. Boys are destroyed in this country this way.” Castro Espín and I are sitting in the drawing room of a former palazzo that now houses government offices in Havana’s diplomatic Vedado neighborhood. With its velvet and damask antique French furniture bordering on threadbare, the room’s Norma Desmond grandeur is a reminder of Cuba’s aristocratic, prerevolutionary past; marble floors gleam coolly against the patina of the cracked, ornate gold leaf and boiserie wall paneling. As recently as a few years ago, it would have been unheard of for the daughter of the sitting Cuban president to grant a four-hour interview to an American gay magazine -- never mind an accession on her part that there be no government representatives present or no preapproved questions. Read complete article and view photos Advocate.com