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Elian Gonzalez is Grown Up and Wants to Return to the U.S.: VIDEO

Gonzalez

Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban icon who was at the center of a gripping custody battle in 1999 after he was found adrift off the Florida coast, is 21-years-old now and gave his first interview since childhood to ABC News.

Given Cuba's relationship with the U.S., there has been little contact with Gonzalez over the years, though photos of him as a teenager offered insight as to how he was growing up.

Gonzalez now says he wants to come back to the U.S.:

"To the American people, first I say thank you for the love they give me. I want the time to give my love to American people...For my family it has always been, we always have the desire to say to the American people, to say to each household our gratitude, appreciation and love that we have," he said. "Perhaps one day we could pay a visit to the United States. I could personally thank those people who helped us, who were there by our side. Because we're so grateful for what they did."

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Elian Gonzalez is Grown Up and Wants to Return to the U.S.: VIDEO" »


Priests Bless Gay Couples in Symbolic Wedding as 1000+ LGBT People March Through Havana: VIDEO

Havana

More than 1,000 LGBT people marched through the streets of Havana, Cuba on Saturday in a procession organized by President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, a longtime activist for equality.

RELATED: Want to Go to Cuba? 6 Tours Specifically for LGBT Travelers

The march included a symbolic gay wedding, The Guardian reports:

The couples held hands or embraced as American and Canadian protestant clergy members blessed them. It was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on 17 May...

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“Our family accepts us but society doesn’t,” said Raúl Orta, who “married” his partner of 13 years, Yaimel Medina. “If one us is no longer here tomorrow, the other one loses everything. That’s not right.”

The parade, with the beat of conga drums and the waving of rainbow-colored banners, gave gay Cubans and their supporters a rare opportunity to celebrate without fear.

Watch the BBC's report, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Priests Bless Gay Couples in Symbolic Wedding as 1000+ LGBT People March Through Havana: VIDEO" »


Cuba To Hold Symbolic Mass Gay Wedding

6a00d8341c730253ef01b7c6cf56de970b-800wiCuba will hold a mass gay and transgender wedding ceremony this Saturday as part of its annual gay pride celebrations. The ceremony has been organized by Mariela Castro, LGBT rights activist and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro. The mass wedding will be symbolic as same-sex marriage and civil unions are illegal in Cuba:

Reuters reports:

"We can't do a wedding, but we wanted to have a very modest celebration of love with some religious leaders," said Castro, head of the National Sex Education Center and a member of Cuba's National Assembly. "In the future we'll see what more we can do."

The participating Cuban religious leaders will be evangelical Christians, she said. Cuba's predominant religion is Roman Catholicism.

The ceremony was inspired by the mass wedding of more than 100 couples at the World Pride event in Toronto last June, Castro said.

Castro said she also wanted other Cubans to be able to share the experience she and her husband had of a spiritual but unofficial ceremony blessed by a religious leader.

Castro has long been known as an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights in Cuba. Last year, she defiantly voted against a proposed labor code that would have offered protections based on sexual orientation but not gender identity. The move was seen as historic given Cuba's autocratic one-party system where consensus rules. 


So You Want To Go To Cuba? 6 Tours Specifically for Gay Travelers

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This weekly travel column is brought to you by ManAboutWorld, an immersive digital premium gay travel magazine from Billy KolberEd SalvatoKenny Porpora, and nearly 75 Global Correspondents.

Thanks to President Obama’s recent initiative to thaw relations with Cuba, our geographically near (yet ideologically distant) neighbor, it’s now a little easier to go. But don’t expect to hop on a plane, grab a hotel and hit the beach on your own just yet.

HAVANA Gareth Williams smallerThere are still restrictions in place, specifically with respect to pure leisure tourism — it’s still not legal for Americans, who must travel under a general or specific license (i.e., visa). Check out this comprehensive Q&A in the New York Times and visit our blog for further information. 

So how exactly do you go gay to Cuba?

There are quite a few gay tour operators running fantastic trips to get you to Cuba safely and (mostly) legally. Our friend Matt Smith has a licensed group for Cuba’s Pride Week May 4-10, 2015, and a license to do custom People-to-People trips if you’re looking for something customized. As a Canadian company, Out Adventures presents the most leisure-oriented of all the LGBT tours, with departures scheduled March 7-15 and December 27, 2015-January 4, 2016. (U.S. citizens may join at their own risk and in six years of running tours, they’ve brought a number of U.S. citizens without a problem — inquire directly with them for details.) 

Moretravel

Coda International Tours — March 8-15 — explores the art and food scene of Havana before heading to Cienfuegos; HE Travel's April 14-19 trip focuses on the life and work of Tennessee Williams with an elegant reception at the National Museum of Fine Arts; Detours With Mattduring Cuban Pride Week from May 1-11, includes Old Havana and encounters with Cuban nationals, plus a Pilgrimage to La Guarida, a restaurant based in the apartment where Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed; and Zoom Vacations takes their third trip to Cuba, from December 28-January 2, where guests can ring in the New Year at a beachside all-inclusive resort with white sand beaches to experience all the art, culinary and culture Cuba has to offer.

For more opinionated travel information and inspiration, get ManAboutWorld Magazine on iTunes (iOS) or Google Play (Android). 

Image credits: Top: Luis Guillermo Pineda Rodas; right: Gareth Williams bottom: Thomas Leuthard

CUBA NEXT Thomas Leuthard https---www.flickr.com-photos-thomasleuthard-11234940795 smaller


AGGRESSIVE STRAIN OF HIV THAT CAUSES ACCELERATED AIDS DEVELOPMENT RESURFACES IN CUBA

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A number of Cuban patients have tested positive for a new, highly aggressive strain of HIV that seemingly develops into full blown AIDS much faster than most other strains. There is no set timeline for if and when an HIV-positive person will develop AIDS, it can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years according Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a molecular virologist who was contact by Cuban public health officials. These patients, Vandamme explained to Voice of America, were developing AIDS within 2 to 3 years.

"So this group of patients that progressed very fast, they were all recently infected," Vandamme explained to Voice of America. "And we know that because they had been HIV-negative tested one or a maximum two years before."

When we talk about HIV (a virus) and AIDS (a syndrome,) we tend to lump the two in together as a single ailment, and fail to differentiate between the multiple strains of HIV that function differently from one another.

AIDS, which is a persistent compromise of the immune system, typically develops in HIV-positive people who don’t have proper access to antiretroviral drugs that effectively stop the virus from being able to infect new cells. It can also result from a positive person merely having an already weak immune system.

Accoring to Vandamme, none of the six patients were being treated for HIV, but their immune systems were fully intact. The speed with which their AIDS progressed was linked to the very virus itself, a mutated variant that is being called CRF19.

"Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast. Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [trying] to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes."

The new strain bears similarity to a number of Group M-class HIV strains that are found throughout Africa and Europe. This isn’t the first time that CRF19 has surfaced, Vandamme explained, but in the past it proved difficult to find people infected with that specific virus. Though the CRF19’s rising prevalence in Cuba is worrisome, it could also give researchers a better shot at understanding and treating the strain.


New Cuban Travel and Trade Rules to Take Effect Friday

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Many of the broad range of changes to the U.S. Government's policies toward Cuba which President Obama announced in mid-December are going to take effect tomorrow, the administration announced today.

Reuters reports:

The United States eased decades of trade and financial restrictions on Cuba, opening up the country to U.S. telecommunications, construction and financial services in a slew of changes announced by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury.

The new rules, effective on Friday, are the first concrete step to implement U.S. President Barack Obama's move last month to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and ease the long economic embargo on America's Cold War enemy after more than 50 years.

The AP adds:

The measures include permission for Americans to use credit cards in Cuba and U.S. companies to export some technologies. Americans authorized to visit Cuba need no longer apply for special licenses.

Americans can also bring home up to $100 in alcohol and tobacco from Cuba, meaning the ban on Cuban cigars is officially over.

Only Congress can lift the full embargo which has been in place for more than 50 years.


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