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HAVANA (CBSMiami) – Thousands of members of Cuba’s LGBT community staged a colorful parade through the streets of Havana on Saturday against homophobia and to call for equal rights for the community.

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Mariela Castro, who is the daughter of former Cuban President Raul Castro and who heads Cuba’s National Sexual Education Centre (CENESEX), was in the parade. She has made great strides as Cuba’s top LGBT activist in pushing for gay marriage laws and said she has high hopes those rights would be expanded after last month’s Communist Party Congress.

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Cuban homosexuals, persecuted in the 1960s and 1970s by authorities who sent many gays to military-run work camps, have gained more freedom in recent years.

Fidel Castro, who ruled the island for almost half a century after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, surprised many in 2010 by expressing regret in an interview for the repression of homosexuals during the early years of his revolution.

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The parade in Havana was held ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.