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    Rainbow World Fund Delegation Travels to Cuba Despite Sudden Cancellation of Nation’s Pride Celebrations

    Rainbow World Fund (RWF), under the direction of Founder and President Jeff Cotter, has organized visits to Cuba since 2012. Each Jornada, or journey, has largely been educational, focusing on Cuba’s LGBTQ community and the country’s history, politics and spirituality. A highlight of the trips is participating in Cuba’s Pride celebrations in Havana. This year, Dr. Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Communist Party First Secretary Raúl Castro and feminist and revolutionary Vilma Espín, invited Cleve Jones—Founder of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Co-Founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation—to receive the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) Prize.

    On May 7, the day before Cotter, Jones and the rest of the delegation were scheduled to travel to Cuba, they were informed that the two planned Pride marches, known as Congas, had been cancelled. On that day, Cotter wrote: “We’ve just received the news, but we are, of course, still going. It’s disappointing that the two Congas have been canceled. They are a powerful means to organize and show the strength and vitality of the LGBTQI community. We hope that they will return next year.”

    He added, “RWF has been working in Cuba for eight years supporting the LGBTQI community, helping children with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illness, and providing direct aid following natural disasters. During that time, we have seen Cuba’s LGBTQI community evolve and mature and know that they have the strengths to overcome this unfortunate decision by their government.”

    Jones did receive the CENESEX award at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater on May 10. Cotter informed us that, during the ceremony, Jones presented a rainbow flag from the estate of the late Gilbert Baker to Espín. Jones also brought two 12′ x 12′ panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt with him on the trip.

    The next day did not go as smoothly. Several individuals gathered for an unauthorized LGBT march along Prado Avenue in Havana. At least five people were arrested, according to the publication Tremenda Nota. Cotter and Jones, writing jointly to the San Francisco Bay Times from Cuba on May 14, shared that they met with the leadership of CENESEX and voiced the following:

    “We came to Cuba to listen and learn and show our love and solidarity to our brothers and sisters on the island. At the halfway point of our ten-day delegation to Cuba, we were disappointed by a number of events. We wish to express our concern on three issues:

    First, we are saddened by the government’s decision to cancel this year’s Congas (Pride parades) due to pressure from anti-LGBTQ fundamentalist Christians who oppose the significant advancements that LGBTQ people have made in Cuban society.

    Secondly, we are dismayed by the government’s attempt to shut down an alternative Conga organized by independent LGBTQ activists and the arrests of some participants of that event.

    Thirdly, we regret the government’s decision to deny entry to a reporter from The Washington Blade sent to cover the LGBTQ events.

    We have communicated our concerns directly to the leaders of CENESEX.

    While we cannot confirm this, we have been assured that the detained LGBTQ activists have been released and will not receive severe punishment.

    The government claims that both the religious fundamentalists and the independent LGBTQ activists are being exploited by forces who oppose the regime for economic and political reasons.

    It has been a complicated and difficult week but we are all grateful for the positive interactions we have experienced with the Cuban people and to witness their continued progress on LGBTQ issues.

    None of these events alter our position that the U.S. blockade is a cynical and cruel imposition of great suffering upon
    all the people of Cuba that must end.”

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