Mariela Castro becomes first person to vote 'No' in Cuba's National Assembly over LGBT workers' rights

The daughter of President Castro is one of Cuba's most vociferous LGBT right's activists

Mariela Castro has become the first person to vote ‘No’ in Cuba’s National Assembly, over a lack of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers in a government bill.

The head of Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education, and daughter of President Raul Castro, felt the proposal did not go far enough in preventing discrimination on grounds of gender identity or people living with HIV.

The new labour code bans workplace discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation, but made no mention of HIV status or the gender a person identifies with.

Even widely criticised measures have been passed through the 612-seat assembly which briefly meets twice a year and approves laws by unanimous show of hands.

The vast majority of Assembly members maintain other jobs and are not professional lawmakers. Laws are generally drafted by a small group of legislators and discussed with citizens before being presented to parliament.

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As one of the island’s most prominent LGBT rights activist, Castro has often taken stands that challenge the social status quo, while firmly supporting the Communist government.

Few Cubans were aware of the vote held on 20 December this year until after the measure was enacted into law this summer. Since then, LGBT activists publicised the vote by Castro.

In an interview posted in late July on the blog of LGBT rights activist Francisco Rodriguez, Mariela Castro suggested there could be more debate in the assembly.

“There have been advances in the way things are discussed, above all the way things are discussed at the grass-roots level, in workplaces, unions and party groupings,” she said.

“I think we still need to perfect the democratic participation of the representatives within the Assembly.”

Mariela Castro pictured promoting International Day Against Homophobia, in Havana, Cuba. Mariela Castro pictured promoting International Day Against Homophobia, in Havana, Cuba.
Of the measure she voted against she said: “I could not vote in favour without the certainty that the labour rights of people with different gender identity would be explicitly recognized."

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuban analyst who lectures at the University of Denver, said he believes Castro’s move might “open doors for other important initiatives." But Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York, said it was more likely a signal of what Ms Castro's family links allow her.
In the past, Mariela has spoken in favour of legalising same-sex unions in Cuba, but legislation has not materialised.

LGBT rights in Cuba are a sensitive subject, after homosexual islands were were routinely harassed and sent to labor camps along with others considered socially suspect in the 1960s and '70s.

More recently, Fidel Castro sad he regretted the past treatment of LGBT citizens, and today Cuba's free and universal health care system covers gender reassignment surgery.

Additional reporting by AP

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