Naomi Lindstrom

Achy Obejas, a distinguished writer at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., gives a lecture on queer issues in Cuban culture. 

Photo Credit: Remy Fine | Daily Texan Staff

At a talk discussing queer issues in Cuban culture Monday, Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American writer and LGBTQ advocate, noted the achievements of Cuba’s movement toward equality but said there is still progress to be made.

Naomi Lindstrom, acting director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, said Obejas brings a well-balanced perspective to the discussion of Cuban issues.

“She’s not at all what you would think,” Lindstrom said. “She’s not totally critical of the Cuban government. She’s not totally supportive. She takes what I consider [to be] a very measured outlook of everything that came out of the Cuban Revolution.”

Obejas said that since the early 21st century, treatment of the LGBTQ community in Cuba dramatically shifted from a place of persecution and marginalization to a place of tolerance. According to Obejas, tolerance does not mean acceptance. 

Obejas said that most of the changes could be attributed to Mariela Castro, founder of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body that advocates for LGBTQ issues.  

Mariela Castro is the daughter of current Cuban president, Raul Castro. 

“What makes Raul Castro’s daughter’s pet project of homosexual acceptance truly ironic is that he is who is widely credited with being the driving force behind the creation of Cuba’s most notorious anti-gay campaign, the Unit for Military Production, also known as the UMAPs,” Obejas said.

Obejas said the Units to Aid Military Production, otherwise known as UMAPs, formally unacknowledged by the government, were detainment facilities for homosexual citizens as well as other political dissidents.  

Obejas said that despite the government’s silence on the subject, Mariela Castro was able to make gender issues part of the national conversation.

CENESEX pushed for a law that provides government-funded gender reassignment surgery to Cuban citizens who request the procedures. Obejas noted that, while the center’s accomplishments have made significant strides toward tolerance, there is still progress to be made within the movement.

According to Obejas, the ability for citizens to surgically change their anatomy doesn’t release them from societal gender pressures, just as the existence of an LGBTQ movement hasn’t eradicated homophobia. 

“The truth of the matter is that the harassment of gays is a pretty continuous and daily event in Cuba, particularly in Havana, where the capital police are notoriously violent,” Obejas said.

David Glisch-Sanchez, a sociology graduate student, said he enjoyed the fresh perspective given

Students from the White Rose Society sort white roses in March of 2012 on the West Mall.

Photo Credit: Sa Wang | Daily Texan Staff

University students are working to prevent future genocide by promoting consciousness about the Holocaust.

The White Rose Society, a student organization focused on Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention, passed out white roses at three different locations on campus Thursday as part of their annual 10,000 Roses event to raise awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides. The White Rose Society is named after a student organization at the University of Munich whose members were murdered after they denounced the Nazi Holocaust, Shomya Tripathy, advocacy events coordinator for the organization said.

The organization’s event began eight years ago with only 500 roses passed out, but has grown to 10,000 roses representing the number of people killed in a single day at the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland during World War II.

“We are trying to promote remembrance of the Holocaust in order to connect to modern day genocides,” Tripathy said. “We are following in their motto ‘we will not be silent.’ We are speaking out to remind people that we said ‘never again’ and we plan to hold that to be true.”

Julie Johnson, philosophy senior and president of the Chabad Jewish Student Organization, said events that promote Holocaust remembrance and awareness are of the upmost importance.

There are 4,800 Jewish students enrolled at the University, according to Hillel, a foundation for Jewish campus life. Various student organizations, activist groups, Jewish associations and multiple synagogues make up the Jewish community in Austin.

“I cannot remember a time I didn’t know about the Holocaust, but I know there are people who have limited exposure to it,” Johnson said. “There are more and more Holocaust survivors passing away, and it is increasingly important to remind people of the tragic events.”

Naomi Lindstrom, associate director of the University’s Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, also passed out roses in her office. Lindstrom said the best way to remember the Holocaust after its remaining survivors are gone is through their stories.

“It’s important to preserve the memories of remaining survivors and more broadly heighten people’s awareness of the general phenomenon of genocide,” she said.

Lindstrom said the initiative does not just focus on Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but also touches on the broad concept of genocide. Raising awareness about the past should empower individuals to respond proactively if they realize genocide is developing or occurring somewhere.

“Do you want to just read about it in the news, or do you take action and try to prevent it from spreading on a widespread level?” Lindstrom said. “It’s something to keep in mind while remembering the Holocaust.”

Printed on Friday, March 30, 2012 as: Students recognize Holocaust victims with 10,000 roses