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Cuba Pride trip – recap!

So I took a small group of travelers for Cuba’s LGBT Pride equivalent – the Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, held in conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Early in the trip, a double rainbow appeared… so we knew the trip was blessed by Heaven! Here are some of our queerest moments…

We visited with the first same-sex couple to marry in Cuba. (Their marriage is not recognized by the state – just by the community.) They’re friends of mine, and they run a bakery together in Havana. So besides visiting them, we went to the bakery for lunch and desserts! They told us about their activism work, the bakery, and what their marriage meant for the community. We also made a special delivery of cocoa powder, baking powder, and sprinkles – ingredients they can’t get in Cuba. I was especially happy to deliver the baking powder. I had some trouble bringing it into the country – airport security and customs officials get suspicious when they see a bunch of white powder – and at one point I was worried they’d confiscate it. Or detain me. Oy.

Two women pose for a photo in front of a display case of baked goods

At the bakery eating and making our delivery of baking supplies

We visited El Mejunje (“The Concoction”), a famous club and cultural center in the city of Santa Clara. Founder Ramón Silverio and lesbian organizer Maria gave us the grand tour and then joined us for dinner. Ramón told us all about the original concept of El Mejunje as a place where everyone was welcome – from punk rockers to LGBT people and other misfits. And for the last few decades, before the LGBT community built some visibility, this was one of the only welcoming spaces in Cuba. Because of this, El Mejunje is famous – and in some circles, infamous – and Ramón is considered a key figure in the history of LGBT acceptance and inclusion.

A smiling traveler stands before a red wall covered in graffiti

Scott stands before a graffiti-covered wall at El Mejunje

We stopped by CENESEX, the National Center for Sexual Education. This state agency, led by Mariela Castro, is the leading voice in Cuba for LGBT acceptance and equality. And this is the agency that organizes all the events for the Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Besides all that, they do tons of other work on sexual health, relationship health, gender equality, sex ed, domestic violence, and more. A member of the staff hosted us and gave us an orientation to CENESEX and their work, plus we viewed a special exhibition they had for the month… a photo exhibit plus a bunch of posters from past events and awareness campaigns.

A man looks at colorful posters on the wall

Adolfo views a display of posters from different CENESEX events and campaigns

As we were wrapping up our visit, I saw a staff member struggling to mount a big banner on a pole. I asked, “Want some help?” He looked at the banner, looked at me, and smiled. With a couple extra sets of hands, we got it all taken care of.

Two men work to hang a banner

Eryc helps with some tape, and I did one of the zip ties.

We attended the annual March up La Rampa, Havana’s gayest street. It was a colorful event, with music playing, a few crazy costumes, banners and flags flying… Of course I had a favorite banner, the one we’d helped mount! It was great feeling like we were a part of it, even just in that small way. The March terminated at the Pabellón (“Pavilion”), where Mariela Castro spoke to the crowd, and then government vendors opened up selling t-shirts and books, and giving away posters, pamphlets, and other swag.

A crowd marches with a banner in the background

That’s the banner we helped hang! It says, I’m In: For Workplaces Free of Homophobia and Transphobia

There was also the unforgettable Gala Against Homophobia and Transphobia at the Karl Marx Theater. There were big-name musical performances and presentations of awards, largely what you’d expect. My favorite was when the emcees brought Mariela Castro up on stage to talk about the movement for LGBT equality and inclusion. At one point, a drag queen asked if Mariela planned to continue leading this work, or if she had any plans to move on to other endeavors. Everyone knows she’s got plenty of other things she could focus on, such as her role as a member of Cuba’s parliament. Mariela replied, “I have to confess, I do plan to leave this work and move on to other projects… just as soon as we’ve finished the work and achieved everything.” A lot of the audience suddenly got something in their eye… a beautiful moment.

People gather outside Havana's Karl Marx theater for the Gala Against Homophobia and Transphobia

People gather outside Havana’s Karl Marx theater for the Gala Against Homophobia and Transphobia

The trip was a great success, and I plan to keep doing Pride trips every year! Thanks to everyone on the trip – Carol, Josh, Scott, Eryc, Pat, Vivian, and Jesús – for making it so special.

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