U.S. State Dept. Denies Mariela Castro Visa to Attend Equality Forum [UPDATED]

The Cuban civil rights activist can't get permission to come to next week's festivities.

For the past 11 years, the Equality Forum has added a little spice to its packed itinerary of panels, parties and dinners by recognizing a “featured nation” at its International Equality Dinner. That fancy meal is typically attended by a delegate from said nation — someone who has stepped up to further LGBT rights in his or her country — but this year that important seat at the table may be empty.

Equality Forum organizers chose to feature Cuba and invited LGBT civil rights activist — and daughter of President Raul Castro — Mariela Castro to attend so that she could speak at a panel on Cuba and receive an International Ally for LGBT Equality Award at the dinner. Now we all know that unless you’re Jay-Z or Beyoncé, getting a U.S. visa to and from Cuba can be a bit problematic, and apparently Ms. Castro can’t pull the same strings as the Carters. The U.S. State Department denied her the right to travel to Philadelphia to attend the Equality Forum, even after granting her permission to come to New York for U.N.  meetings last year.

In a press release, Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin said that the organization has never had trouble getting visas for other guests. “It is shocking that our State Department would deny Ms. Castro travel to a civil rights summit – especially one held in the birthplace of our democracy that enshrines freedoms of speech and assembly.”

Lazin says Castro’s presence would shine an important light on Cuba and her work as the head of CENESEX, an organization that rallies for AIDS prevention, and as a vocal leader in the fight against homophobia in her country. “Mariela Castro runs the leading Cuban LGBT organization that offers support and services to LGBT youth and seniors, provides HIV and STD education and prevention, and combats homophobia,” says Lazin. “These are shared values that deserve the right to be heard regardless of political systems.”

The Equality Forum kicks of Thu., May and runs through Sun., May 5. For info on events, visit equalityforum.com.

UPDATED: [10:18 a.m., 4/30/2013] U.S. State Department relents, granting Castro visa to attend Equality Forum. More details here.

UPDATED: [1:23 p.m., 5/6/2013]  Mariela Castro attends Equality Forum International Dinner. Click here for photos and details.

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