Castro is in the United States to lead a panel on sexual diversity at the Latin American Congress in San Francisco Thursday. She also is scheduled to talk at the San Francisco LGBT Center and at the New York Public Library before returning to Cuba.
Castro, 49, has led the Cuban National Center for Sex Education for more than a dozen years. For groups working on gay rights globally, Castro's visit offers a chance to hear how a repressive regime has become more open to the rights of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, ABC News reported Wednesday.
"We know that her advocacy has been very important within Cuba, which has a very unfortunate history in regard to gay people and LGBT rights," Roberta Sklar of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said. "The fact that she has played a central role in changing hearts, minds, and impacting parliament to change legislation in Cuba itself is very encouraging."
Republican lawmakers see the visit differently, noting that her father's regime is accused of committing its own human rights abuses, including holding political prisoners and detaining journalists.
"This is a time when repression has been increased by the regime, just in the last couple of years," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said. "So while repression is increasing, this administration is giving visas to the highest levels of the Castro dictatorship, because I don't know who gets higher than the daughter of the so-called president of the terrorist regime."
State Department officials said there is no widespread ban on issuing visas to Cubans, although high-level officials cannot be issued visas without a waiver, ABC News said. Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Mariela Castro's visa was issued in accordance to the law.