Mariela Castro Espin, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), grants an exclusive interview to CubaSi where she explains the educational work carried out by this institution.
Bachelor of Psychology-Pedagogy and Master of Sexuality, Mariela Castro is known internationally as a champion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Cuba.
joined social networks and created an account on twitter, @CastroEspinM and the blog http://elblogdemarielacastro.blogspot.com in order to dismantle the prejudices that have been historically established and banish homophobia.
- You said “the Revolution has changed not only the lives of Cubans but also their sexuality” in a meeting with U.S. students last November. Why?
The Cuban Revolution meant not only the achievement of the long-awaited national sovereignty, but also a complex process of creating and implementing the project of justice, social equity and solidarity that has been built and defended during these 53 years.
This scenario led to the confrontation and dialogue between generations, cultural patterns, classes and social strata. Old paradigms of power based on domination and exploitation, inherited from Spanish colonial system and the U.S. neocolonialism, were questioned.
Undoubtedly, this process has generated radical and deep changes in our culture, our prejudices about sexuality, in the relation of domination of men over women, in the reconfiguration of courting, in sexual politics that privilege heterosexual relationships and exclude other forms of erotic and love relationships between human beings, which deny certain rights to those who do not meet these parameters.
Cuban cinematography and other artistic expressions have portrayed from a very creative point of view the vicissitudes of men and women for the development of these changes. For example, the overrated criteria of virginity and its contributing factor to marriage have been transformed. The same has happened with the imposition of a couple for the rest of our life, the sole responsibility of men as head of family, the loyalty standard of women and infidelity in men, the rejection of race relations, the myths of menstruation, the disqualification for single mothers and single women, women's rights, a disapproval to transgender people, gay and bisexual, among others.
- What is the status of the analysis of the bill calling for the legalization of gay marriage? Would the new Family Code recognize their property and personal rights besides allowing transsexuals’ change of identity?
At present, the draft bill proposal to amend the Family Code is being subjected to the criterion of specialists from the Ministry of Justice and professionals affiliated with the National Union of Jurists of Cuba. According to the Minister of Justice, its discussion in our Parliament is included in the legislative plan of 2012. I believe that the Party Conference may help to define a policy explicitly prohibiting discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity and, in turn, help to dismantle the prejudices that hinder its adoption. The purpose of these proposals corresponds to the need to recognize and protect the rights of our population.
With regard to facilitating the legal identity change for transgender people without surgical intervention (as it happens now), we presented, through the Federation of Cuban Women, in 2008, a draft decree-law of Gender Identity to the President of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the People's National Assembly. There is no information on the development of this legislative initiative yet.
The proposal has an inclusive character for all transgender persons, identified by a specialized Commission of the Ministry of Public Health, since not all can be performed a surgery because of their health or personal decisions.
On occasion of your visit to Holland, you wrote on your twitter account @CastroEspinM “There exists in Cuba an explicit policy of care not only over prostitution but also over transactional sex, which is individualized”. Could you explain this?
Regarding prostitution topic, I start from the conviction that the autonomy over the body of all persons should be respected as a right. However, sex market has not disappeared thanks to the prevalence of forms of social organization based on patriarchal and class exploitation systems among human beings.
Some of its expressions are hard to make visible because the efforts of governments are focused on the most traditional and explicit interpretations, such as prostitution and human trafficking. These cases include transactional sex that refers to women and men who get some benefit from sex practice, which is not necessarily money. It has always existed, but it is only now that we talk about this phenomenon and in Latin America it is closely related to sex tourism, which has an own logic.
In Cuba, since 1959, the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) led the attention to the problems generated by prostitution as a form of exploitation, mainly toward women, who were also underprivileged not only for their gender status, but for race and social class reasons as well.
It is known that there were more than 100,000 prostitutes in very precarious and humiliating conditions, who have expressed in public testimonies, how the Revolution changed their life, by benefiting them and favoring their prominence within a great liberating process which contributed to dignify them.
The work done by the Revolution to eradicate prostitution is a matter of national pride. The crisis that began in 1990 favored its reappearance as a social problem with new characteristics, especially linked to the development of international tourism and a consistent presence of customers who pay for sexual services and generate this market. Therefore, she praised the Swedish experience of penalising the customer, which has proved effective in the reduction of sexual exploitation.
-How many sex change operations have been performed in Cuba so far and in response to what requirements is the selection made?
There have been 15 sex reassignment surgeries. The first was carried out by Cuban specialists in 1988. But it was not until 2007 that this procedure was retaken by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP).
There exists a National Commission for Comprehensive Care of Transsexual People that has received 175 requests from trans population since 1979 and they are assisted according to internationally agreed parameters. As long as we divulge these services in the media, there will come more people who experience the conflict and do not know they can receive help.
Until now, trans people should go through a two-year follow-up period in which they are accompanied by specialists, along with a personalized hormone treatment, during the transition to the gender with which they identify themselves. At the end of this process, the Commission endorses the people who are eligible and are apt for the sex reassignment surgery (popularly known as “sex change”) and for the legal change of identify.
This surgery is not an aesthetic whim, but a procedure scientifically agreed on worldwide, which shows a considerable benefit for the welfare of trans people. The surgical procedure contributes to ease the permanent anguish that these people have lived since their early childhood, as a result of the prejudices that lead to incomprehension and discrimination.
- What’s your opinion on the confirmation by WikiLeaks on the financing ($300. 000) the U.S government has established for the subversion of the LGBT project in Cuba?
In the first place, this explicit reaction on behalf of the U.S. government demonstrates that the work carried out in Cuba for the rights of the lesbians, gays, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) worries and occupies them, in time and resources. Why? Because it shows the Cuban government's political will to face homophobia and transphobia as forms of discrimination, which are not consistent with the emancipating project defended by the Cuban revolution.
What we are doing tears apart the worn-out media campaigns to discredit the spirituality of the revolutionary project and makes evident the resources of North American taxpayers dedicated to lie, slander, demonize, and collapse this changing experience and its leaders.
They have set their efforts in giving privilege to a few unauthentic voices, repeating them in traditional media, blogs and social networks that follow a spiteful misleading program with a pre-established script.
Strong evidences have been presented on the orders received by these mercenaries, on behalf of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana. Some of these evidences were published by WikiLeaks.
Many people who have been eye witness of the facts and later read the news which have been broadly spread can appreciate the gross way of manipulating the international public opinion in largely influential press media like the Spanish CNN, El País, Der Spiegel, Radio Nederland, among others.
- Several steps have been taken in Cuba to promote the respect to the free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity, however, these are not enough yet. In your opinion which is the path to follow to get to the hearts of all Cubans and banish, once and for all, the homophobia in our country.
The first steps were taken by the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), with the creation of the National Group of Work on Sexual Education in year 1972, forerunner of CENESEX.
The FMC also propitiated a public debate on these topics. A landmark moment was the publication of the book "Man and Woman in Intimacy" (Sigfred Schnabel, 1979), in which a scientific voice argued, for the first time in Cuba, why homosexuality is not considered a disease.
Many homosexual people have told me the benefits these messages meant to them, against stigmatizing burden society imposes on them.
Exactly after assessing the actions we have carried out are not enough, in year 2007 we joined the initiative of the French activist Georges Tin of celebrating the International Day against Homophobia on May 17, because in that date of 1990 the World Health Organization (WHO) eliminated homosexuality from its manual of classification of mental illnesses.
From this experience in 2008 we begin to work with an educational strategy, with the support of the media, for the respect to the free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity.
These activities have been supported by several state institutions and organizations of the civil society, with the support of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and they have contributed to create a LGBTIH movement, with the peculiarity of including heterosexual people who actively participate in this cause.
Why do we choose an educational and communicative strategy?
Because it’s about a deep process of cultural transformation, of contributing with analysis elements to dismantle the prejudices that have been established historically to dominate people, their sexualities and their bodies. The change in the social awareness is really complex and takes a lot of time, but there must be a political will to enable the change, otherwise we would be repeating the ways of thinking of the exploitative societies before us.
- How much of Vilma is there in Mariela?
The permanent opposition to all expressions of social injustice. The commitment with the revolutionary process that has been generated since the first emancipating reactions of our people which became mature in the struggle for the definitive independence of the Cuban nation. The sincerity, the dissent, the humility, and the persistency.
Cubasi Translation Staff
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