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by Rex Wockner

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Daughter: Raúl Castro backs gays in the military

Raúl Castro, who is leading Cuba during his brother Fidel's lengthy illness, supports gays serving openly in the military, says his daughter, Mariela Castro Espín, director of the island's National Center for Sex Education, CENESEX. Castro Espín was asked about 'gays in the military' in a Nov. 4 interview with the Buenos Aires daily newspaper Clarín.

'I always say where there's humanity there's diversity, and in the military world there are gays also, but, of course, they are careful because it's a milieu that doesn't accept them,' Castro Espín said. 'It is still considered that the conditions to make changes do not exist. Well, my dad, the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, says to me: 'Look, I think that to the extent the population changes, the army will change, because the population is in the army also. Go on working, raising awareness, doing things, changing Cuban society, and you'll change everything else, including our institutions.''

Castro Espín said she has taken a direct interest in gay issues since 2004.

'A group of more than 40 cross-dressers and transsexuals from Havana came to see me at CENESEX to let me know about the difficulties they were having with the police in the central La Rampa zone, where they were meeting and still meet,' she said. 'The police were arbitrarily arresting them and then letting them go without charges, just because people were complaining [ about them ] .'

Three years later, Cuba is set to begin offering sex-change surgery.

'There are 27 transsexuals waiting for the operation [ and ] the medical team is being trained,' Castro Espín said. 'As soon as it's ready ... they will start to operate.'

Castro Espín also told Clarín that 80 percent of people with HIV in Cuba are men, and 85 percent of those are men who have sex with men, 'often in connection with prostitution.'

She also mentioned that she wants to visit the U.S. 'but they won't give us a visa.'

'I was there once and I've been invited back twice since then, but they didn't give it to me,' she said. 'I asked for it and they didn't respond. ... [ But ] when they want, professional Americans come [ to Cuba ] via a third country and we have excellent relations and excellent e-mail contact.'

Italian gay leader dies

One of the most important gay activists in Italian history died Nov. 4 of colon cancer. Massimo Consoli, 61, also was a journalist, writer, playwright, poet, theorist, translator, archivist and historian. He wrote more than 30 books, mostly on gay issues. Among his many accomplishments, Consoli founded two Italian gay organizations in the days before the Stonewall Riots. In 1971, he wrote 'Gay Manifesto,' which inspired the creation of other gay organizations, including the important Italian Revolutionary Homosexual United Front, FUORI!.

In 1976, Consoli organized the nation's first pride-related activities. He went on to organize hundreds of other demonstrations, conferences, exhibitions, and intellectual and artistic events.

Later, he also was an AIDS and safer-sex organizer.

'I've lived the history of the gay movement. It's inside me,' Consoli told the International Herald-Tribune last year.

His Web site,, will remain online, maintained by friends.

Hungary not ready for same-sex marriage

The Hungarian Parliament's human-rights committee declined Nov. 6 to open debate on a bill to allow same-sex marriage. The legislation was introduced by the Free Democrats party, which claimed banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

But members of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party said society is not yet ready to go down that road.

South Korea nixes gay protections

South Korea's Justice Ministry has removed 'sexual orientation' protections from a proposed law aimed at strengthening anti-discrimination statutes. Christian groups and some business owners had vocally opposed including gays in the measure. Human Rights Watch denounced the development. 'A supposed landmark nondiscrimination law has been hollowed out to exclude Koreans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who are in need of protection,' said HRW researcher Jessica Stern. An HRW report on the matter is at

Belgian same-sex marriage rate remains high

Belgian gays and lesbians continue to marry at a high rate.

Belgium is one of six nations where same-sex couples have access to full marriage. In 2006, 1,124 same-sex couples tied the knot, compared to 1,027 in 2005. The nation legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, and 854 gay couples married that year.

Brussels has the highest rate of gay-male marriages while Antwerp leads in lesbian marriages. The country has 10.3 million residents, slightly more than the population of Los Angeles County, California.

—Assistance: Bill Kelley

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