Gays were persecuted for decades after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, sometimes sent to grueling rural work camps along with others considered socially suspect by the Communist government.

But there has been a gradual shift away from macho attitudes, and Fidel Castro himself has publicly regretted the mistreatment of people seen as different.

This week, drag shows, colorful marches and social and cultural events in Havana culminated Friday with celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia in a sign of perhaps growing shifts in attitudes towards the island's gay community.

Hundreds of activists have taken part in the activities organized by a sex education center headed by first daughter Mariela Castro.

"Join (us) to educate families about their great social responsibility to ensure that there is no discrimination of any kind," Castro said.

The schedule included a gala bash at the capital's cavernous Karl Marx theater, with drag performers on stage with the popular musical group Los Van Van. Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel attended.

Six years ago, Cuba's health care system began providing gender reassignment surgery free of charge, and a proposal to legalize same-sex civil unions is being studied.

But Mariela Castro, Fidel's niece and the daughter of current president Raul Castro, says more must be done to raise awareness about lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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