Gay community celebrates amid govt-backed campaign against homophobia

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(15 May 2010)
1. Various of gays parading on 23rd Street
2. Close up Mariela Castro (daughter of President Raul Castro, centre) marching with gays
3. Medium shot Mariela Castro parading with gays
4. Crowd marching, chanting and dancing
5. SOUNDBITE: (Spanish) Mariela Castro, Director of Cuba’s Centre for Sexual Education:
“Unity, Revolution, Socialism! Unity, Revolution, Socialism! A free Cuba!”
6. Crowd with Gay Pride flag dancing next to performers on stilts
7. Various of musicians playing instruments in the crowd
8. Crowd
Cuba’s gay community paraded through the streets of the capital Havana on Saturday, marking a new departure for homosexuals on the island.
The gay community was out on the streets with rarely seen openness, and high-ranking political alliances, in a government-backed campaign against homophobia.
For only the second time since the Cuban revolution 50 years ago, hundreds of gays and lesbians paraded on one of Havana’s most well known streets.
President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela, director of the Cuban Centre for Sexual Education, which promotes the rights of sexual minorities, led the parade from Havana’s La Rampa theatre to a nearby convention centre one block away.
Onlookers described the meeting, in the city’s Vedado district, as one of the largest gatherings of openly gay activists ever seen on the communist-run island.
A similar meeting was held last year in Havana for the first time.
Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists for a week-long series of workshops, conferences, featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations, leading up to the International Day Against Homophobia, marked worldwide on 17 May.
Activists said it was the day in 1990 when the World Health Organisation stopped listing homosexuality as a mental illness.
Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the persecution of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from state jobs, rounded up and sent to jail or work camps. Others fled into exile.
But recently, the government has agreed to include sex change operations for transsexuals under its free national health system and Saturday’s discussions covered issues such as adoption by gay and lesbian couples.
Since 2008, Cuba’s parliament has been studying proposals to legalise same-sex unions and to give gay couples the benefits enjoyed in heterosexual marriages.
According to Mariela Castro, defence of equal rights for Cubans of all sexual orientations is a key principal of the Cuban revolution led by her uncle Fidel Castro, who overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
The week of celebrations culminates on Monday.

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