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      Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba
      Out in Support of Pride!

      By Janine Solanki

      As summer winds down, we have an inspiring and beautiful season of Pride events to look back on. Throughout Metro Vancouver, a host of events, marches and activities were held under the hot summer sun, celebrating the queer community and pushing forward against discrimination and for LGBTQ rights. Among the pride flags and an abundance of color and glitter, was a consistent presence of Cuban flags and a banner proclaiming “Cuba Says: LGBT Rights are Human Rights!” carried by organizers and supporters of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC).

      Cuba at Pride?

      This provoked many questions from people who visited the VCSC information table at various Pride events. “I want to visit Cuba… but I thought I could be thrown in jail for being gay?” These false notions are the result of a US-led mainstream media campaign that is in the business of manipulation and misinformation on the reality of life in Cuba. It is for this reason that every year VCSC is at Pride events to dispel the lies about LGBTQ rights in Cuba, and to instead spread the truth – that Cuba is taking a lead in advancing LGBTQ rights and for fighting homophobia and transphobia.

      LGBTQ rights in Cuba?

      On the legal front Cuba has made great strides for LGBTQ rights. Discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is illegal, and adoption by same-sex couples is legal. The Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) is at the forefront of advancing LGBTQ rights, leading public education and pushing for legal advancements, with Mariela Castro, the director of CENESEX, spearheading the movement. Mariela Castro is also daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and Vilma Espin, a founder of the Federation of Cuban Women. On the front of Trans rights, Cuba offers free gender-reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy. It is a testament to Cuba's progress against transphobia that the Cuban people elected Adela Hernandez, a trans women, to municipal assembly in 2012, making her the first trans women to hold public office.

      Members of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba have had the opportunity to participate in Cuba's events for the International Day Against Homophobia, and many conversations at VCSC's table at Pride events were spent relaying these first-hand experiences. The annual Cuban Days Against Homophobia and Transphobia, throughout most of the month of May and across Cuba, include conferences and forums, a massively popular gala performance, and a “conga” parade through the streets of Havana. Seeing the minister of public health, the minister of education, and other government officials out in support of these events made it clear that the queer community has the support of the Cuban government.

      While the fight against discrimination and to further LGBTQ rights is a continuing process, it is clear that Cuba is a leader in advancing LGBTQ rights and has become a country which can be looked to and learned from!

      VCSC at Pride!

      This year Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba was proud to be a community partner for the Vancouver Pride Society's 2017 Pride Season. Pride started out in June, which is LGBT Pride month. The season kicked off with East Side Pride on June 24th, in Grandview Park on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. VCSC's table was busy throughout the festival, with many great conversations with people wanting to know more about queer rights in Cuba. One thing that drew particular interest at the table were educational and artistic posters by CENESEX which can be found up at institutions and public places throughout Cuba, promoting the “humanity is diversity” campaign against homophobia and transphobia. VCSC also contributed to the program with a salsa lesson, which got people up and dancing and introduced them to one of the things Cubans do best – dance!

      The next day on June 25th, VCSC was out in Surrey with an information table where organizers spent the day talking to people at the Surrey Pride festival. With a Pride flag, Trans flag and Cuban flag flying high together over the table, many people stopped by to find out what Cuba has to do with Pride!

      On to July, due to the popularity of the East Side Pride salsa lesson VCSC was out at the Pride Sports Day on July 22nd for another salsa lesson. Alongside a multitude of sports games, a run and performances, the queer community learned a few salsa steps and were encouraged to find out more about VCSC and Cuba solidarity!

      August was the height of Pride season, starting with the Vancouver Trans March on August 4th. VCSC joined the march down Commercial Drive chanting “Trans rights are human rights!” The next day, August 5th, VCSC was out on Commercial Drive again for the 14th Annual Vancouver Dyke March. Following the march, VCSC organizers participated in the festival at Grandview Park and gave out VCSC's special Pride focused newsletter, featuring articles on queer issues in Cuba.

      On August 6th the Vancouver Pride Parade took over the streets of Downtown Vancouver, bringing out over half a million people to watch and participate in the parade. For the 12th year running VCSC marched in the parade, complete with a decorated vehicle, Pride, Trans and Cuban flags and a banner reading “Cuba Says: Sexual Diversity is Not Dangerous! Homophobia and Transphobia are!” VCSC organizers and supporters danced through the streets in matching neon pink t-shirts printed with the beautiful logo of Cuba's Trans network and the words “Humanidad es Diversidad”, and chanted “Viva Cuba, Viva Pride!” After the parade in which massive crowds of people saw that Cuba is out in support of Pride, VCSC was at the Sunset Beach post-parade festival with an information table, talking to festival goers and giving out the VCSC Pride newsletter.

      The last event of the 2017 Pride season was on August 19th, when New Westminster closed down a downtown street for their Pride street festival. VCSC's information table at the festival drew the attention of many people out enjoying the festival, and was constantly busy with people talking to VCSC organizers and signing a petition against the unjust US blockade against Cuba.

      Metro Vancouver's Pride season was a great chance to show Cuba's support for the queer community, but this doesn't end with the Pride season. VCSC will be holding an event on September 14th, with a film, live music, speakers and discussion about LGBTQ rights in Cuba! The event will feature documentary "Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution" and will be at 6:30pm at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch.

      To find out more about VCSC events, Cuba and queer issues in Cuba visit www.vancubasolidarity.com, follow Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @VanCuba_VCSC

      Follow Janine Solanki on Twitter: @janinesolanki

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