gay_flag_lede.jpgThe daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro is speaking at several events in San Francisco this week, and her visit has drawn criticism from a number of high-ranking Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Mariela Castro Espin will appear at 2 p.m. today at a symposium at San Francisco General Hospital to speak on transgender health.

She is then scheduled to speak at the San Francisco LGBT Center this evening about issues including same-sex marriage, HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights in Cuba, where her uncle, Fidel Castro, ruled for decades until he fell ill and his brother Raul took the reins in 2006.

On Thursday, Castro Espin will participate in a 12:30 p.m. panel discussion at the Latin American Studies Association’s International Congress being held at the Marriott Marquis San Francisco.

Castro Espin is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana and has worked in HIV/AIDS prevention and pushed for a law that went into effect in 2008 in Cuba that allows transgender Cubans to undergo sex-change surgeries without charge.

The U.S. government’s granting of an entry visa for Castro Espin and two other members of the Cuban delegation has been criticized by a group of mostly Republican politicians.

“We shouldn’t be extending an open hand to a regime engaged in the systematic and flagrant denial of basic human rights,” presidential candidate Romney said in a statement Tuesday.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said, “While the Cuban people are struggling for basic freedoms in the face of increasingly brutal repression … the Obama administration has made a reckless and dangerous decision to embrace regime operatives.”

A Democrat from New Jersey, Rep. Albio Sires, also opposes the visit.

“By issuing these visas, the United States is sending a message to Cuba and to the rest of the world that our country does not take known threats seriously,” Sires said.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the co-sponsors of tonight’s event, is among the other planned speakers at the LGBT center.

Wiener said in a statement that the meeting with Castro Espin is “about friendship and building bridges.”

“Dialogue is the foundation for positive change,” Wiener said. “I look forward to learning more about LGBT life in Cuba and hearing Mariela’s unique perspective on change in Cuba.”

The event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 6 p.m. The San Francisco LGBT Center is located at 1800 Market St.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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