Defiance and Arrests at Cuba’s Gay Pride Parade
HAVANA — Chanting “Long live a diverse Cuba” and carrying rainbow flags, Cuban gay rights activists held an unauthorized pride parade in Havana this weekend despite a warning against it by the Communist government, which called it subversive, in a highly unusual show of civil disobedience in the one-party state.
More than 100 Cubans marched from Havana’s Central Park to the seafront boulevard before being stopped by dozens of security officials.
At least three activists were arrested by plainclothes police officers, and others were ordered to disperse because the march did not have an official permit.
Activists had called for their own parade after the state-run National Center for Sex Education, or Cenesex, last week abruptly canceled its 12th annual conga against homophobia, Cuba’s equivalent of gay pride.
The national center denounced the alternative parade as a “provocation,” and several activists said that they had received threats either anonymously on social media or from state security in person not to attend — not that it stopped them.
The march on Saturday was the second such event organized independently of state institutions — previously a rare occurrence in Cuba — in just over a month, although the previous one, in defense of animal rights, had received a permit from the authorities.
“This moment marks a before and an after for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but also for Cuban civil society more generally,” Maykel González Vivero, an independent journalist and L.G.B.T. activist, said of the pride parade.
“Social media is playing its role, and civil society demonstrated it has strength and can go out onto the streets if necessary,” he said. “And from now on, the government will have to take that into account.”
After the cancellation, Cenesex, led by Mariela Castro, the daughter of the Communist Party leader, Raúl Castro, said in a statement that certain groups had been planning to use the event to undermine the government, emboldened by the escalation of aggression by the Trump administration against Cuba and against Cuba’s leftist ally Venezuela.
The United States has for decades financed covert programs to promote democracy on the island and undermine the Communist government.
But many L.G.B.T. activists said that they believed the government was reacting more to pressure from evangelical churches, which have a growing following in Cuba and have campaigned against the expansion of gay rights.
“This isn’t a political march; this is a celebration to give the L.G.B.T. community visibility,” said one activist, Myrna Rosa Padrón Dickson.
The march was promoted on social networks thanks to an expansion of the internet in Cuba in recent years that has more broadly resulted in increasing numbers of Cubans mobilizing online over certain issues, sometimes apparently managing to influence policy.
The government, for example, postponed the full start of a decree clamping down on the arts after an online campaign protesting the law, and stepped back on regulations governing the private sector after entrepreneurs and experts complained.
So far, however, the government has retained tight control over physical public spaces, mostly restricting marches to expressions of support for the government, like the recent Labor Day parade.
The conga in Havana was an exception that had become a regular occurrence. It was also a reminder that the government, which once sent gay men to work camps in the early days of Fidel Castro’s 1959 takeover, had made considerable advances in L.G.B.T. rights in recent years.
The country guarantees rights such as free sex-change operations and forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality in a region where some countries still have anti-sodomy laws.
Some L.G.B.T. activists said that they believed the cancellation of the conga was a sign that those rights were being eroded, possibly because a recent public consultation over a new Constitution had suggested that there was more opposition to the community than previously thought.
Many Cubans expressed their opposition to a change in the draft Constitution that would have explicitly opened the door to same-sex marriage. Evangelical churches also ran extensive campaigns against the change, which was eventually watered down.