In Communist-ruled Cuba, a Mass held by three transgender pastors in the western Cuban city of Matanzas was the first of its kind on May 5. The Mass marked a groundbreaking shift in the relationship between Christianity and the transgender identity in a country that once sent homosexuals to “correctional” labor camps in the years following the 1959 revolution. The Mass was part of a three-day conference on transsexuality and theology, and served as a precursor to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, celebrated on May 17.

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, popularly referred to as “IDAHOT,” was created in 2004 as a movement to raise awareness around the violence and discrimination that LGBTQ communities face around the world. After more than a decade of growing support, the movement has become the most important date for international LGBTQ communities to mobilize and continues to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the general public, and the media worldwide. Today, IDAHOT is celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are illegal. Grieboski Global Strategies supports IDAHOT in its efforts to defend human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

The date of celebration for IDAHOT was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s May 17, 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Still, 27 years after the WHO’s decision, the stigmas that justify persecution persist: 72 countries criminalize same-sex relationships and as many as 10 countries punish same-sex conduct by death. As of 2013, five billion people – 70% of the world’s population – live under laws and regulations that restrict freedom of expression around sexual orientation and gender identity. However, countries like Cuba that are making strides toward the acceptance of LGBTQ communities indicate an increasingly global movement toward restoring rights to these communities – a movement that manifests in the support of millions worldwide on IDAHOT. In fact, 87% of countries worldwide are moving toward stronger social approval of homosexual behavior, an initial step toward laws that ultimately reflect freedom of expression.

Cuba’s movement toward LGTBQ rights has been led by Mariela Castro Espín, the niece of Fidel Castro. Castro Espín serves as a member of the Cuban parliament as well as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) in Havana, a government-funded organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights and is a leader in AIDS prevention education. Castro Espín is a new kind of Cuban revolutionary, fighting for the rights of the many LGBTQ Cubans who faced persecution and incarceration under the Fidel Castro government. A major success of Castro Espín and CENESEX was the 2008 passage of a law that provides transgender persons with free sex reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy. The law also grants new legal identification documents that reflect the change in gender to those who received the surgery. Looking to the future, a long-term goal of Castro Espín is the ultimate legalization of same-sex marriage; however, such an accomplishment would require amending the Cuban constitution, which currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Grieboski Global Strategies celebrates the successes of IDAHOT and leaders like Castro Espín. As these trailblazers contribute to promoting a progressive and accepting global agenda on homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, there remain threats to the wellbeing of LGBTQ citizens around the world. Although we can only hope that someday all governments will be open-minded to reforms of both social and legal treatment of LGBTQ communities, today we wish for the safety of global advocates who participate in the IDAHOT demonstrations around the world.