A week from now or so, several countries around the world will be officially and unofficially observing the annual "International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia" (IDAHO).
The events, loosely coordinated through a French website are the brainchild of French academic figure Louis-Georges Tin, who launched the IDAHO idea in 2004.
This year, the IDAHO committee has made a call for participating organizations to hold a "Great Global Kiss-In". Participants are being encouraged to call for a public gathering at a national or local monument, urge poeple to carry the flag of their country, wear clothing that represents their nation, hold a public kiss-in and tape it and then upload it at the Global Kiss-In page.
So far, 36 localities are listed on the page, including some in the United States (Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco at the Harvey Milk Plaza, and St. Louis).
The Latin American countries listed so far are Colombia, and Peru.
Not listed in the kiss-in page but holding their third annual week-long "Day Against Homophobia" cultural summit will be Cuba, under the auspices of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and it's director Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of current Cuban leader Raúl Castro.
The final version of the official program, which describes an array of events taking place in Havana from May 11th through the 18th, includes educational workshops and panels (one event will bring together pro-LGBT religious organizations), concerts (including an event called "Rockers Against Homophobia"), receptions (a mother's day themed event is limited to providing a space for transgender people and their moms), photo and art exhibits.
There will also be an incredible number of LGBT-themed television and film screenings including Germany's "Aimée and Jaguar", India's "Fire", Argentina's "XXY", Great Britain's "Kinky Boots", Taiwan's "Beautiful Boxer", Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Querelle" and Cuba's "Where Forgetfulness Does Not Live". Cuba has certainly come a long way since it wouldn't even allow it's own "Strawberries and Chocolate" to be shown in local theaters.
The United States is also represented by the 2003 TV movie "Soldier's Girl" the 2001 documentary "De Colores: Lesbian and gay Latinos", 2002's "Unconditional Love" with Kathy Bates, and, perhaps most surprisingly, an episode from the 4th season of "Grey's Anatomy" titled "The Becoming" which features this storyline.
What is not surprising is that Gus Van Sandt's "Milk" will also be screened. In March of 2009, CENESEX announced that a screening of the film would be a key component in a new CENESEX initiative against homophobia and at this year's cultural summit it will be screened once again to close the week-long event. A panel discussion will also follow.
At a press conference held on Wednesday to announce details of the summit, Mariela Castro said that she had sent a special invite to Sean Penn, the American actor who plays the role of Harvey Milk in the film, to attend the screening.
"We've sent him a message to Haiti to see if he sees it fit to come on the day we screen his movie to debate it," said Castro (Sean Penn has spent the month in Haiti helping people affected by the recent catastrophic earthquake).
Controversy: In 2008, Penn came under criticism for hanging out with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Raul Castro (before he became the island's president) for an "investigative report" for The Nation and The Huffington Post. It wasn't the first time he'd visited with Chavez (their first meeting came in 2006) and he'd also met Cuba's then president Fidel Castro on an earlier trip to Cuba.
The week "Milk" premiered in the United States was the same week The Nation published the Sean Penn piece in 2008 and it drew a particularly myopic attack from the gay right in the United States in the form of an essay published in The Advocate authored by James Kirchick ("Sean Penn's Blind Spot"). At the time, I didn't necessarily disagree that Sean Penn should have been criticized (at the time I wrote "I have little patience for Hollywood actors going on 'fact finding trips' to countries like Venezuela and Cuba when it's obvious that the access they get to the upper echelons of power is due to their political leanings and their fame") but in Kirchick's diatribe he ignored the fact that on LGBT issues there had been a sea-change when it comes to Cuba (Kirchick, to give you an idea of where he was coming from, also went to endorse John McCain in the last presidential election).
But, then again, when it comes to LGBT issues in Cuba, things remain far from perfect and there is reason to believe that the rights of LGBT political dissenters in the island are still being curtailed, That's why I also thought that Cleve Jones' defense of Sean Penn, also on the pages of The Advocate, was a bit naive as well.
I would actually love to see Sean Penn be able to make it to the "Milk" screening in Havana on May 18th. I might not agree with his political views or stands but it would shine a light on some of the more positive developments when it comes to LGBT rights in Cuba in recent years. If he does show up, I'll give you the update when it comes.
Extra fact: Radio Guantanamo, broadcasting from Cuba, reports that Guantanamo will also join Havana in observing an international response against homophobia. Activities include screenings of movies like the United States films "Quinceañera" and "Gods and Monsters" and a special gala on May 17th to celebrate the "International Day Against Homophobia". The events are sponsored by CENESEX.
Marriage equality in Cuba: A reader has also tipped me to the following YouTube video from a show that was broadcast on Venezuelan television on May 6th (its the 1st of 6 clips from the show). Venezuela, following Cuba's example, is launching their own version of a government-sponsored series of cultural events this coming week around the IDAHO theme. The invited guests are Mariela Castro Espin and Gabriela Ramirez, the Venezuelan government's ombudsperson.
I won't translate the whole thing but, early in the clip, at the :57 second mark, Castro says the following:
...and there we are indeed proposing, within the Family Code, for the establishment of, the recognition of legal unions, we don't say 'marriage' because it would create a lot of controversy, we'll leave that category to the heterosexual world, and we are proposing another category, which would be marriage between people of the same sex, and that their right to adopt is also recognized...