Cubans march against homophobia in Havana

Mariela Castro led the march from Havana's waterfront through the streets of the capital

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Hundreds of Cubans have staged a protest against homophobia and for gay rights, in the capital, Havana,

The march was led along Havana's central streets by Cuban gay rights campaigner Mariela Castro.

Ms Castro is the head of Cuba's National Sexual Education Centre - an organiser of the march - and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro.

Before Raul Castro came to power in 2008, no gay rights marches had been allowed in Cuba.

'More inclusive'

Forming a long line and dancing the conga, the marchers wound their way through Havana. Many were carrying rainbow banners and chanting "Homophobia, no! Socialism, yes!".

One marcher, 29-year-old Jesus Rios, told the Associated Press news agency that Cuba "had made great progress over the past years".

"I've noticed it with my father, who has accepted me step by step, and now also with the neighbours and colleagues. I feel more included," he said.

Mr Rios credited Mariela Castro and the work of the National Sexual Education Centre for that change in what he referred to as Cuba's "macho culture".

Ms Castro said she was optimistic that Cuba would eventually legalise gay marriage, but that the hardest part would be overcoming prejudice.

In the 1960s and 70s, gay men and lesbians in Cuba were fired, imprisoned or sent to "re-education camps".

Ms Castro's uncle, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has claimed responsibility for the persecution suffered by homosexuals on the island after the revolution of 1959.

In a 2010 interview he said they had traditionally been discriminated in Cuba, just as black people and women.

There has been a growing acceptance of homosexuality in Latin America, with Uruguay last month becoming the second country after Argentina to legalise gay marriage.

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