The Cuban government has made significant strides towards gay, lesbian, and transgender equality, despite lingering prejudices.

A 2002 poll found a majority of Cubans believed gays and lesbians were “people with problems.” Prejudice against GLBT people was at its height during the “five gray years” from 1971-1976, when many artists and writers suspected of being homosexual were fired from their jobs, harassed, and, often, chased into exile.

Fidel Castro denounced gays as “agents of imperialism.” In a 1965 interview he said, “[W]e would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist must be.”

But today, Cuba, after Fidel, is a country in transition.

It started in 2005 when Mariela Castro, President Raul Castro's daughter, as head of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) began introducing pro-gay reforms to the Communist Party. The center has also mounted public campaigns to educate people about the issues surrounding homosexuality and transsexualism.

In May, Cenesex organized Cuba's second anti-homophobic festival. The weeklong festival's program of movie screenings, debates and book fairs culminated with the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) – a global event designed to heighten awareness of homophobia in society.

Cenesex told the Spanish news agency Efe that the government had issued a resolution approving sex-change operations for transsexuals. The organization had also sought approval for a bill that would modify the current Family Code. The reforms would have granted gays and lesbians housing and inheritance rights, and, possibly, legal recognition of their relationships by civil unions. But, Mariela Castro said the Communist Party tabled the Family Code reforms, recommending that she “work with the population” beforehand.

Passage of Resolution 126 provides for the creation of a new center devoted to delivering integral health care for transgender people, including gender reassignment therapy.

“This resolution establishes all of the aspects of care for transsexuals, including the operation for those who qualify and are interested – because not all transsexuals want the surgery,” said Castro.

The law provides resources for transsexuals to request a change of identity.

Cenesex also works on HIV prevention policies, has proposed conjugal visits for gay prisoners, and advocates increased visibility of GLBT people in the media.

Photo credit Montrealais