14 August 2011
by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
For Wendy Iriepa, it was a wonderful wedding. The thirty-seven year old arrived at a Havana wedding hall in the afternoon in a vintage Ford convertible. She wore a white wedding gown, flowers in her hair and she was holding a rainbow flag. Her marriage to Ignacio Estrada, 31, was a sign of how much Cuba has changed in the years since the beginning of the Revolution when lesbians, gays, and trans people were persecuted.
Ignacio Estrada, who is openly gay, stated “This is the first wedding between a transsexual woman and a gay man. We celebrate it at the top of our voices and affirm that this is a step forward for the gay community in Cuba.”
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Cuba, but for Wendy and Ignacio, that does not matter as Wendy is a woman in the eyes of Cuban law. Wendy had sex-reassignment surgery in 2007. Her surgery was paid for by the island’s universal health care system.
According to the Huffington Post:
In the early years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, homosexuality was considered highly suspect along with other “alternative” forms of expression, such as U.S. fashion trends and rock and roll.
Many gays and transsexuals were fired from government jobs, jailed, sent to work camps or left for exile. That climate of persecution was famously chronicled by exiled writer Reinaldo Arenas’ autobiographical “Before Night Falls,” later a feature film starring Javier Bardem.
Among the most vocal advocates for changes in how homosexuality are viewed is Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro. She is the head of the National Sex Education Center, a legitimate and government approved organization.
At a transgender event on Friday, Mariela Castro spoke about her institution’s work getting state coverage for sex change operations and about the anti-homophobia work she has done. She stated “One of our accomplishments has made it possible for Wendy to get married. It seems she found the love of her life and we wish her many congratulations, because all of our work has been for this, the well-being and happiness of our sisters.”
Despite the positive words, divisions remain within the LGBT Community in Cuba, and there is a tendency to blame the United States for groups that have broken off from Mariela Castro’s organization.