Guest blog post written by: Jessi Calzado-Esponda, Chief Executive Officer, Cuba Inspires.
For many, LGBT Pride Parades are often synonymous with colorful outfits, a fun celebration of love, and a reason to gather with friends to have a good time. Attending Cuba’s Parade against Homophobia and Transphobia meant something completely different for me. My company, Cuba Inspires sponsored and arranged a historic collaboration between Cuba and the United States Transgender Community. We became the first organization to successfully arrange the participation of an American citizen in an official capacity at the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX).
The week was filled with highlights, including meeting the U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to discuss LGBT issues, collaborating with Dr. Mariela Castro-Espin (the president's daughter), watching our guest actress Candis Cayne participate in activist pane, and marching in the actual LGBT Parade. However, for me the most memorable moment came while passing out condoms, balloons, and pamphlets with STD and HIV information.
I truly believe that one of the most important aspect of every LGBT parade should be health education and outreach. With this goal in mind, even before I landed on Cuban soil, I reached out to ONE Condoms and requested condoms. I am accustomed to passing out condoms in many different events. What was surprising to me, was how much the Cuban society actually appreciated my gifts.
As I passed out the first couple of condoms, within seconds, I was completely surrounded by many people who extended their hand and requested my goodies. When I ran out, I asked a local, to provide insights into what had just happen. He explained to me that "Cubans take our health very serious. Women, men, even teenagers, if we are having sex, we are using condoms." While at a restaurant, one of the waiters who noticed a condom necklace, pulled me aside and asked me if by chance I had any left. I dug into my bag and gave him a couple. A few minutes later, a female staff approached me asking me the same thing—and as I handed her the last of the 3,000 condoms that I brought with me, I couldn't be happier.
Knowing that we live in a world full of uncertainties where life often changes with the blink of an eye, the Cuban societies openness and willingness to use condoms, is quite refreshing. I am not, at all, surprised to find out that Cuba has one of the lowest HIV rates in the Caribbean and feel happy and proud that ONE Condoms was willing to help me distribute much needed protection to the citizens of Cuba.