HAVANA, Cuba, April 24, 2015 (AMG) — Several dozen members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. will be travelling to Cuba this summer for a week of performances in the Havana area. The tour was coordinated with the help of the Youth for Understanding organization – an international group that promotes cultural and educational trips to Cuba – and is intended to highlight LGBT issues on the Caribbean nation.

The deputation is scheduled to arrive in Cuba on July 10 and will leave eight days later, after five concerts.

“We have an incredible opportunity to help make a difference in the perception of the U.S. and of LGBTQ people with this historic visit,” Chase Maggiano, Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, said in a public statement. “We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to help advance dialogue by serving as cultural ambassadors.”

LGBT rights in Cuba: The Cuban government has a dark history when it comes to LGBT rights. Former president Fidel Castro, the leader of the revolution that ousted Fulgencio Batista and installed Cuba’s current regime, cracked down on gay Cubans after taking power in 1959, sending many to forced labour camps throughout the 1960s and 70s. Homosexuality was banned and cruelly punished in Castro’s Cuba until 1979, and, although the situation for LGBT Cubans has significantly improved since then, human rights activists argue that homophobia is still prevalent in the highly Catholic island nation.

More recently, the Cuban government has begun taking steps to improve the status of LGBT Cubans. Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of the current Cuban President Raul Castro and Director of the National Centre for Sexual Education, has emerged as a vocal leader of Cuba’s growing LGBT rights movement. She is expected to meet with members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington at some point during their trip to Cuba in July. The American group will also likely perform for a Cuban dance troupe composed of the children of LGBT parents during the tour.

“Cuba is cracking open the door to LGBT equality and we’re excited to be on the frontlines of that,” Maggiano explained, acknowledging the opportunity presented by changing social attitudes in Cuba.

Advocacy support: The use of choral music as a vehicle for advancing gay rights in the U.S. was first popularized in San Francisco in the 1970s. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington was a direct result of this movement, its first performance taking place in 1981. Members of the Rock Creek Singers and Potomac Fever, two of the D.C.-based choral organization’s smaller ensemble groups, will provide the members of this summer’s musical delegation to Cuba.

In February, Juana Mora Cedeño, a prominent Cuban LGBT rights advocate and critic of the Castro regime, met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other American officials during a congressional trip to Cuba. American representatives of the progressive Metropolitan Community Church plan to travel to Cuba next week and meet with LGBT religious leaders there. July’s visit from Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington promises to build on these earlier trips.

Image credit: Cuban News Agency

Castro regime opens door to LGBT equality in Cuba

Jake Bolton

Jake is a graduate of Drew University with a B.A. in Political Science. He focuses on U.S. foreign policy and labour issues, and resides in Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

PUBLISHED — April 24, 2015

Category: CARICOM & Foreign PolicyIdentities