Two independent LGBT rights advocates are among the members of Cuban civil society with whom President Obama met on Tuesday in Havana.
Juana Mora Cedeño of Alianza Mano and Nelson Álvarez Matute, who works with her organization, attended the meeting in the Cuban capital. A pool report indicates that Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis were also present.
“All of the individuals around this table have shown extraordinary courage,” said Obama, according to the pool report. “They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about. Some of them represent specific constituencies inside of Cuba. Some of them have broader concerns regarding democracy, the ability to speak freely, worship freely, or assemble or are advocating on behalf of democratic practices here in Cuba.”
Mora told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview after the meeting that Obama “listened to everyone.”
“He listened to each part, including the LGBT community,” said Mora.
Mora is a vocal critic Cuban President Raúl Castro and his daughter, Mariela Castro, who promotes LGBT-specific issues on the island as director of the National Center for Sexual Education.
“In Cuba there exists a word called dissident if you disagree with the government,” Mora told the Blade last May during an interview in Havana. “We really don’t consider ourselves dissidents, but we are in this category.”
Mora met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress in February 2015 during their trip to Havana. Mora also took part in a hearing on anti-LGBT discrimination that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held in D.C. last October.
Tania García Hernández of the LGBTI Help Line, which is based in the province of Villa Clara and is affiliated with the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, welcomed Obama’s meeting with Mora and other Cuban human rights advocates.
“I am one of the many straight people who are very happy,” García told the Blade on Tuesday. “The voice of the LGBTI community was amplified among the 13 people representing civil society in Cuba who had access to this unforgettable meeting with President Barack Obama.”
“He listened to their sad reality, with their rights constantly violated,” she added.
Tuesday’s meeting took place shortly after Obama delivered a televised speech at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater.