Guest post: Photographer Amy Mayes documents the movement for equality in Cuba

Amy Mayes is a photographer and LGBT rights activist based in New York City. This article was first published in the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce New York news blog on June 5, 2014.

Attending an international LGBT rights conference in Cuba was an eye-opening experience on many levels. LGBT inequality around the world, and the responses to it, manifest themselves differently according to where we live based on social, geographic and political climates. Transnational conversations are important, as it provides us with an opportunity to understand one another.

Here we call it Pride, but in many countries around the world, it's called the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Although the wording is quite different, I learned that it’s really about the same thing - a celebration of sexual and gender diversity.

During this journey, I met so many fascinating people who helped tell the story of LGBT Cuba:

Mariela Castro Espín, is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and the daughter of the current Cuban president, Raúl Castro. Much of her focus is on ending LGBT discrimination within families. 

Ramón Silverio is the founder of El Mejunje, a 30 year old LGBT cultural center in Santa Clara.  It’s an extraordinary place, known for being a safe haven for anyone who needs it. The space includes a theater, restaurant, cafe and art gallery.

Alberto Roche Guerra is a well-known Cuban physician, gay rights activist and transgender advocate who travels and lectures often. Roche and his partner, Camilo, graciously invited us to a fabulous dinner at their home in Havana with some of their friends.

Cuba’s Communist Party has recognized the need for LGBT rights and visibility is increasing.  A monumental victory for the Cuban trans community occurred in 2008, when all medical procedures and psychological treatments became free of charge. There is still much progress to be made, including marriage equality, the recognition of hate crimes and ending discrimination in the military.   

During this trip, Amy traveled to Varadero, Havana and Santa Clara. 

For more of Amy’s photographs visit the “LGBT Cuba” and “Cuba” portfolios on her website: http://amymayesphotography.com

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