Trans Cuba National Coordinator Malu Cano and Cuban National Center for Sex Education Department of Community Relations Director Andy Aquino were the featured speakers at a panel discussion that the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC ) hosted March 25.
The discussion zeroed in on the work their organizations do to elevate LGBTQ people and issues, especially those that affect the transgender community and/or people with HIV/AIDS.
Following an introduction by PRCC Chief Operating Officer Juan Calderon and words of welcome by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Aquino and Cano explained ( via a translator ) the focus of each of their organizations.
Cano ( who also founded Trans Cuba in 2001 ) said the organization is a social network sponsored by the United Nations that is recognized by and works with the Cuban National Center for Sex Education ( similar to the Centers for Disease Control ). She noted that her role is to assist the coordinators in each state, helping the more than 4,000 members nationwide; in turn, those coordinators report to her.
In talking about the work Trans Cuba does, Cano said the organization focuses on those who are HIV-positive; educates family members and the public about transgender people and issues as well as comprehensive sex education; and empowers its members.
She explained that one of things they so is work with the government to separate the data for those with HIV so MSM ( men who have sex with men ) and transgender people are in their own category. Cano noted that because both populations are combined, government statistics show 15 percent are HIV-positive; however, her research shows a 90-percent rate of infection among transgender people, mostly due to that population engaging in sex work.
Cano also noted thatalthough there is a wider acceptance of the LGBTQ communitypockets of society still discriminate against transgender people, including some schools, some of which force transgender women to dress in men's clothes and vice versa.
When asked if any transgender people have been killed in Cuba, Cano said no, although they still face other kinds of hate crimes by the wider population.
Cano spoke about the upcoming month-long Cuban Campaign Against Homophobia and Transphobia ( in May ) sponsored by the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. The campaign's focus is to educate the public about LGBTQ people and issues so more people accept them as a part of the fabric of Cuban society.
Aquino explained that the Cuban National Center for Sex Education is tasked with informing the government about sex education as it relates to the LGBTQ community, contraception and HIV/AIDS prevention, and is made up of academics from a variety of disciplines, including sociology and psychology.
He said that they also pushed for a law that would provide free gender-confirmation surgeries for transgender people. This law was passed in June 2008; so far, the government has paid for more than 30 surgeries, he added.
Aquino said more and more Cubans are accepting of the LGBTQ community than ever before due to the efforts of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and Trans Cuba. He also said they focus on the well being of the individual over the larger group and avoid using labels because those labels add stigma and discrimination on LGBTQ individuals.
He noted that they are working toward legislation that would make LGBTQ people equal in Cuba, with a focus on providing the legislators with best practices to make this happen.
They praised Mariela Castro's role in elevating LGBTQ people and issues into the national discourse. Castro is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.
Aquino and Cano's remarks about how transgender people are treated in Cuba sparked a conversation among the attendees about the differences between the two countries. A number of attendees praised Cuba's efforts in integrating their LGBTQ population into the larger society.
A delegation of Chicago LGBTQ Latinx community leaders will travel to Cuba in May to build on the transnational partnership that began with this event and continue the conversation on issues of wellness among LGBTQ people.
A welcoming reception was also held for Cano and Aquino March 24 at Calderon's home.
See PRCC-chgo.org for more information .