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My Participation in Cuba’s Gay Pride

Congregation Life | Comments Off on My Participation in Cuba’s Gay Pride

By Michael Petrelis

My visit to Cuba in May was a huge success and fun adventure, all connected to their Gay Pride events. First, they commemorate Pride on May 17 which is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and has been celebrated in Cuba for 11 years. I brought 10,000 rainbow bracelets, necklaces and flags to share. Gay Cubans and others were very grateful for these gifts since it’s impossible to buy rainbow items.

Cuba has two-part Gay Pride festivities with several days of meetings and a parade in Havana leading up to May 17 and then on that day, a march and related events take place in a city outside of the capitol. This year it was in Pinar del Rio and I’m happy I made it to both celebrations.

At the Pinar del Rio parade, I met President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro Espin, who is the island nation’s leading voice for LGBT acceptance and gay marriage. She is a married heterosexual with children who uses her influence to change societal and governmental thinking towards gays and people living with AIDS.

Being an obvious outsider, I was constantly approached by friendly folks on the streets and in cafes who wanted to either practice their English with me or to extend good cheer to an American. In turn, I practiced being a Gay Goodwill Ambassador and used my limited Spanish with people, who were delighted with my mangled phrases and attempts at an accent!

It was my privilege to distribute these Pride items and build friendships with a wide cross-section of people. I spent time learning about the important work of the government’s CENESEX institute, which promotes healthy sexual practices and acceptance for all, and also the quasi-private national HIV prevention and care services organization that is marking twenty-years of providing assistance to those in need.

Our Pastor Bea contributed personal rainbow jewelry which was shared with a great group of trans men I met at an photography show opening, honoring their lives and transitions. The jewelry looked fabulous on them. The gratitude was overwhelming at times, which humbled me.

This was my second visit to Cuba and I plan a return visit, hopefully in December with more rainbows to distribute. To better engage with Cubans, I’m taking a Spanish course at City College of San Francisco, and after practicing speaking the language here, look forward to using in Havana.


Many thanks to all of you who offered prayers, jewelry and support for this project of mine.