Fidel Castro's niece can come to Phila. LGBT forum

Mariela Castro , a sexologist, will be at a panel discussion at the University of the Arts on Saturday. ERIC RISBERG / AP
Mariela Castro , a sexologist, will be at a panel discussion at the University of the Arts on Saturday. ERIC RISBERG / AP (ERIC RISBERG / Associated Press)
Posted: May 02, 2013

After previously being denied U.S. State Department clearance to travel from New York City to Philadelphia, Fidel Castro's niece Mariela Castro will come to town for the Equality Forum summit to address issues surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Cuba.

The State Department initially balked at allowing Mariela Castro, in New York attending meetings at the United Nations, to travel to the summit, at which a panel will focus on Cuba. In a statement, Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, expressed delight that the State Department "has affirmed democratic values by authorizing Mariela Castro to speak."

Castro, a sexologist, will appear Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the University of the Arts during a panel focusing on LGBT conditions and politics in Cuba. The summit features a panel on a different country each year.

Daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and the mother of three, Mariela has been an outspoken advocate for the civil and human rights of the LGBT community in Cuba. She is director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which administers sexual education policy in the country. She serves on international committees on sexual issues, and is a much-published author.

"This is, of course, great news for Equality Summit," Lazin said. "You have to say also that this is big national and international news."

When he was leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro at one time took a hard line against the LGBT community, imprisoning and punishing many, including high-profile artists and thinkers. Best known in the United States might be the poet and novelist Reinaldo Areas, the subject of the 2000 film version of his memoir Before Night Falls. As of the mid-1960s, gay men and women were being sent to prison farms.

Some observers have credited Mariela Castro with helping soften that hard line. In 1979, homosexuality was decriminalized, and same-sex activities were dropped from the Cuban Penal Code in 1997. In a memorable 2010 apology, Fidel Castro told the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada that many injustices had been committed and that "if someone is responsible, it's me."

Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.

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