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Mariela Castro Given U.S. Visa For LGBT Rights Dinner


The State Department reversed course and will allow Cuban activist to visit Philadelphia.

One of the amazing and beautiful things about homosexuality is that we're everywhere. We're here, we're there, we're in Iran and, yes, we're in Cuba, too. It's in that last nation that Mariela Castro, niece of Fidel and daughter of current Cuban President Raul Castro, has been working to expand LGBT equality in the communist country. And the mission's going pretty well. LGBT activists held their first pride parade in 2011, something unimaginable for generations. Transgender politician Adela Hernandez won a 2012 municipal election, a first for the nation. Gay characters can now be seen on nationally-adored soap operas. And former President Fidel Castro has even apologized for his communist regime's anti-gay policies, something he never would have done had it not been for his niece's work with the National Center for Sex Education.

Ms. Castro and her allies' efforts have been so effective that journalist Andres Duque of Blabbeando, a website that follows LGBT developments in Latin America, wrote, "No other country in the region has experienced as big and fast a turnaround on LGBT issues as Cuba."

Excited and impressed by Ms. Castro's work, the LGBT activist group Equality Forum invited Ms. Castro to speak at their annual International Dinner in Philadelphia this Saturday. Unfortunately, the State Department was less enthusiastic: it denied Castro permission to travel to the city of Brotherly Love. Like all diplomatic figures, particularly ones from countries locked in cold war with the States, Castro must have permission to visit anywhere outside of specific region of Manhattan, the east-west strip between the United Nations and Columbus Circle.

But now, in a surprise move and five days after originally denying Castro entry, the State Department has reversed course and said she can attend the event, which will take place at the National Museum of American Jewish History, mere blocks from the Liberty Bell. "Equality Forum is delighted that the State Department has affirmed democratic values by authorizing Mariela Castro to speak at Equality Forum 2013," executive director Malcolm Lazin said yesterday,

This isn't the first time Ms. Castro has spoken about gay rights here in the States. The topic came up during her pre-approved tour last year, and it was a big topic of conversation during her appearance at the New York Public Library. There and elsewhere during her trip, Castro described the fight for gay rights is a "pretext to fight other forms of discrimination" in Cuba and the world at large. By expanding LGBT equality, she believes, people can overcome all forms of discrimination and prejudice. Could it also be key to bridging frayed international relations? If Castro's forthcoming trip and the State Department's welcome flip-flop are any indication, yes.

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Andrew Belonsky