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      LGBTQ+ Rights are Human Rights!
      Vancouverites Celebrate Cuba’s Advancement for LGBTQ+ Rights

      By Janine Solanki

      “People understand that homosexuality is not dangerous, but homophobia and transphobia are.”

      Mariela Castro, director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), speaking at the May 13, 2017 march through Havana for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

      Cuba today is making huge strides for LGBTQ+ rights and is inspiring the queer community throughout Latin America and beyond in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Some of Cuba’s achievements include the right to free gender confirmation surgery, the right for same-sex couples to adopt, and an active and effective campaign against homophobia and transphobia across Cuba. Much of this is the work of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), which is not only responsible for implementing the national sexual education and health programs but is also working alongside the LGBTQ+ community in leading the struggle against homophobia and transphobia in Cuba.

      Here in Vancouver, Cuba has been part of Pride events for over 13 years, with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC)! At these events VCSC dispels the myths promoted by mainstream media which falsely demonize Cuba, and lets the truth be known – Cuba is a country of diversity, inclusion, respect and love between people of all genders and sexual orientations.

      VCSC is a Community Partner with the Vancouver Pride Society, and earlier in the summer took part in East Side Pride on June 22 and the Pride Premiere on July 26 with Cuba LGBTQ+ information tables. VCSC also contributed a salsa lesson at East Side Pride and at the Pride Picnic in the Park on July 21, bringing a bit of Cuba to Vancouver through dance and music!

      August is Vancouver’s busiest month in the Pride season, and VCSC was out alongside the queer community marching, chanting, dancing and celebrating! On August 2 the Trans, Two-Spirit, Genderqueer, Intersex March started out at East Vancouver’s Clark Park before marching down Commercial Drive. The VCSC banner reading “Cuba Says: LGBTQ+ Rights are Human Rights!” complete with a rainbow Cuba map was held by Cuba solidarity activists in the march, alongside signs such as “trans rights are human rights!” The march wrapped up at Victoria Park, with beautiful performances by local trans artists.

      The next day, the 16th Vancouver Dyke March and Festival took to the streets! Cuba supporters with the VCSC banner and Cuba, Pride and Trans flags joined the march down Commercial Drive, alongside other banners and signs. Highlighting the Dyke march’s inclusion of the trans community, marchers chanted “trans women are women!” The march ended with a festival at Grandview Park where VCSC also had an information table.

      The biggest event of Vancouver Pride was the Vancouver Pride Parade on August 4, which takes over downtown Vancouver for a day of festivities! The VCSC delegation in the parade decorated a truck with banners, flags and many, many festive rainbow decorations, and decorated themselves too! The group of about 20 people danced down the street lined with people watching the parade go by, wearing this year’s beautiful VCSC Cuba Pride t-shirt printed with “Humanidad es Diversidad” (humanity is diversity) between a Cuban and rainbow Pride flag. Throughout the parade, Coast Salish Elder, activist and Cuba supporter Kelly White drummed and lead chants of “Viva Cuba! Viva Pride!” Hundreds of thousands of people come out to watch or participate in the Vancouver Pride Parade, and many saw the banner held up reading “Cuba Says: Sexual Diversity is not Dangerous! Homophobia and Transphobia Are!” The parade ended with a festival at Sunset Beach where VCSC had an information table and were able to talk to hundreds of people who stopped by to find out about LGBTQ+ rights in Cuba.

      On August 17 New Westminster Pride’s street festival took over Columbia street with info and vendor tables, food trucks, and music and drag performances. VCSC’s colourful display of banners and flags attracted people who talked to organizers and signed the petition to lift the U.S. blockade against Cuba, and the recent petition demanding Canada re-open its visa services in Havana, Cuba.

      To wrap up Pride season, VCSC held its own event on August 22nd titled “Humanity is Diversity! Celebrate the Gains of Cuba’s Queer Community”. The event, held at New Westminster’s popular Old Crow Coffee Co brought together a mix of people, some who heard about the event at other Pride festivities earlier in the month. The evening started with VCSC coordinator Tamara Hansen, who outlined the history and current achievements of the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba, before introducing some short documentaries from Cuba. The films showed some of the campaigns by CENESEX in Cuba and included heartfelt interviews with people in Cuba’s queer community. Azza Rojbi and Janine Solanki, organizers with VCSC, then spoke and showed photos from their experience at Cuba’s 2016 International Days Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Their stories and pictures helped convey to the room just how vibrant, active and dynamic Cuba’s queer community is! The event continued with an exciting trivia game, a crowd favourite, and teams competed by answering questions on Cuban and LGBTQ+ history and current events. The event wrapped up by turning up the music and turning the coffee shop into a dance party!

      Aside from the multitude of Pride activities, VCSC also participated in two other community events this last month. As a community partner of the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, VCSC’s coordinator Tamara Hansen spoke to introduce the Cuban/Brazilian/French film “On the Starting Line" (La Arrancada). VCSC also had an info table at the August 29 and September 1 screening at Vancouver’s Pacific Cinematheque, giving filmgoers a chance to learn more about Cuba!

      Also on September 1, VCSC participated with an info table at the Annual Corn Festival (Festival del Maís), organized by the Canada El Salvador Action Network. The festival featured musical and dance performances and delicious Latin American corn-based food!

      This one-month snapshot shows that Cuba solidarity is alive and well in Vancouver! To find out about more Cuba solidarity events visit www.vancubasolidarity.com or follow on Facebook and Twitter @VanCuba_VCSC

      Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki

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