Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Queer Rules of Engagement: 
Fidel's Niece in the Castro Tonight

 (Mariela Castro using the mic at Havana's IDAHO rally last week.)

When my friend Jeff Cotter, the executive director of the Rainbow World Fund, contacted me because he wanted my assistance promoting a talk tonight at the gay community center starting at 6 pm with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba's president Raul Castro and niece to Fidel Castro, I told Cotter of my concerns regarding lack of local grassroots activists.

Castro district Supervisor Scott Wiener was listed on Cotter's release as a cosponsor and the only action he's done since being elected on global gay matters is vote for a resolution shepherded through the Board by Supervisor David Campos. Wiener's biggest mark on any foreign issue is declaring Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit a symbolic citizen of the city in September 2011,when he was still a hostage of Hamas.

Locally, Wiener has devoted energy to stopping any discussion or moves by activists to gain equal access to the rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza, and use the flagpole for solidarity building across borders. In short, Wiener's credentials on international gay matters is abysmal and I would in no way do anything that might bring him an undeserved feather in his cap.

I was also disappointed Cotter had not reached out to Gays Without Borders, which had spent the last two months organizing for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and had done buckets more of good work than Wiener on the global front. There was also the matter of no local Latino gays either sponsoring the talk with Mariela or speaking at it.

Long story short, I contacted other grassroots gays and asked them to share their thoughts with Cotter about the very narrow list of speakers and cosponsors. Several activists agreed with me that outreach and inclusion by the Rainbow World Fund could have been much better and strengthened local bridges to global gay and Latino activists. A few activists want to have an open dialogue with Cotter and other San Francisco LGBT leaders about how we engage each other when doing international work. It's my hope that discussion starts soon.

Cotter heard our immediate concerns and addressed them in an email yesterday. Good that he added a gay Latino Supervisor to speak. However, in the long term our community needs to discuss moving away from putting on events in which elected and appointed politicians get to speak, and early in a meeting or at a rally, usually for as long as they like, and the rest of us are treated as extras who should be grateful to have sixty-seconds to make a comment or ask a question.

Finally, I'm skipping the meeting tonight with Mariela because I don't need the stress and agita I'd endure just walking in the doors of the gay community center. A word of advice to Cotter. Since Mariela's time is so short for the talk, start no later than 6:01 pm and keep the remarks from the pols to one-minute. Here's Cotter's update:

A little bit of background about the event. Supervisor David Campos and Executive Director Theresa Sparks of the Human Rights Commission will be making opening remarks at the event. When I spoke with Michael they had been asked but were not as yet confirmed.

Ms. Castro's visa to the US was granted less than a week ago. Prior to that we very little notice that visit might happen. In that short amount of time huge amount of arrangements have been made to make this visit happen.

Her visit to the Center will be for 90 minutes tops. Everything will be translated Spanish/English – this is time consuming - so figure roughly 45 minutes - if we are able to start on time.

This visit to the Center is an opportunity for Ms. Castro to educate us about LGBTQI issues in Cuba from her very unique perspective. She has a lot to share about LGBTQI healthcare, the Cuban LGBTQI human rights movement and her personal story in a very small amount of time.

There will be time for some audience questions and answers. My hope is that people will focus on asking questions and so we can really hear from her. Many people have approached me about wanting to use the time to make statements and with special requests. Ms. Castro is our guest at this event, I want to use the precious time to hear her.

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