Cuba is famous for its cigars, its passion for baseball, the long list of great major league ballplayers from the island, great Olympians and a certain cigar smoking bearded gentleman who was its long time leader.
But I'll bet you didn't know is that like everywhere else on the planet, Cuba has transgender people on the island as well.
Thanks to having a powerful friend in internationally renowned sexologist Mariela Castro Espin, who is President Raul Castro's daughter and Fidel Castro's niece, transgender people have been able to come out of the shadows. She's the head of the National Centre for Sex Education or CENESEX, and since 2004 has pushed for more humane treatment of Cuba's GLBT people.
Not so long ago, being GLBT was a disqualifying factor for upper echelon positions in Cuban society and anti-gay witch hunts were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s that would have made the Religious Reich proud.
In 2005 CENESEX created the National Commission for Integral Care of Transsexual People, and last year announced on June 6 that free SRS would become available for Cuban transsexuals that wish to have it. They would commence when the Cuban surgical team designated to perform the operations finished being trained by international experts was ready to begin the procedures. CENESEX also hosts a transgender support group that meets weekly in Havana.
Cuba performed its first and only sex reassignment surgery in 1988 and so far 28 Cubans have been diagnosed by the government as transsexual, and 19 wish to have gender reassignment surgery.
Castro's mother is the late Vilma Espin, who was an internationally recognized champion of women's rights. For her, it is the rights of gay and transgender people that need to be fought for.
She's pushing the Cuban National Assembly to adopt what would be the most liberal gay and transsexual rights law in Latin America.
It would if passed officially recognize same-sex unions and inheritance rights among same-sex couples, along with giving transgender Cubans the rights to obtain free sex-change operations. Transgender Cubans would be permitted to change their gender on their identity cards without having genital surgery as a precondition for doing so.
It's ironic that a nation reviled by conservatives for being repressive is more compassionate and tolerant towards its transgender citizens than my own country.