11/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mariela Castro Espin, President Raul Castro's Daughter, Champions Cuba's Gay And Transgender Communities

On sultry Saturday nights in Havana, thousands of young men and women -- including hundreds of gay men, a few lesbians, and many, many beautiful transsexuals and drag queens -- arm themselves with rum, boom boxes, and guitars, transforming the Malecón, a four-mile stretch of the city's north-shore seawall, into a boisterous, joyous outdoor cruise bar. Diesel exhaust from 1957 Chevrolet Bel Airs and boxy, rusted Ladas mixes with cigar smoke and surprisingly sexy cheap cologne. For the most part, the gay element of the crowd consists of flamboyant young queens and tough, handsome machos who wouldn't be out of place in any urban setting from Miami to New York. A roving gay party is spontaneously assembled every weekend, though the exact whereabouts is kept under wraps until the last minute in order to avoid a raid by the police under the pretext of enforcing Cuba's antiprostitution laws and the selectively enforced laws governing freedom of assembly. Open flirtation, even cruising, is an accepted practice on the Malecón. A segment of the young heterosexual male population called jineteros, who would be horrified to hear themselves described as hustlers, are ready to take up for an evening with foreign gay male tourists on the assumption that some sort of gift -- from cigarettes to T-shirts to a meal to money -- will exchange hands as a matter of courtesy.