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Gay man, transgender woman marry in first LGBT wedding in Cuba

Special to LGBTQ Nation
Sunday, August 14, 2011

HAVANA, Cuba — On a sweltering, rainy afternoon in Havana, Ignacio Estrada, an HIV positive gay man, and Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman, on Saturday became the first gay couple to be legally married in Cuba. The couple said their marriage was a present to Fidel Castro, who celebrated his 85th birthday on the same day.

Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada exchange rings in Havana.
Photo: Jonathan Wolfe

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Cuba, however the government has recently permitted marriage between transgender individuals who have changed their sex and wish to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Although Iriepa, previously Alexis, is now a woman, the couple consider their union a gay marriage.

The wedding was made possible by the support of CENESEX, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, which is led by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel. CENESEX has pushed for a measure that allows transsexuals to change their gender on their official identification documents as well as receive government funded gender reassignment surgery.

In 2007, Iriepa became one of the first women in Cuba to receive the free surgery under new laws passed with the support of CENESEX.

However, the relationship between CENESEX and the couple has recently soured, and Iriepa was recently fired from her job at CENESEX.

The couple believes this was due of her choice to marry Estrada, 31, a member of the independent gay rights group LGBT, vocal critic of CENESEX, and a gay man. Sanchez believes that because CENESEX receives direct orders from the Communist Party, their work is done “in order to gain acceptance in the gay community that has been so sadly marginalized.”

Yoani Sanchez, a well-know blogger, replaced Mariela Castro, who was to be the witness at the wedding.

When questioned by the press about the relationship, the bride, breathless from the heat and swarm of photographers, politely said, “I hope that this marriage will not be seen as an insult to Mariela.”

The couple first met on the 13th of May at a meeting at CENESEX. Both were in what Iriepa described as “suffocating” relationships and quickly decided to leave their partners and start a relationship together. They spent their first night together on the 17th of May. Three months later they are now husband and wife.

Although Estrada affirms his homosexuality, he speaks openly about his love for Iriepa and how she is a “completely functioning woman.”

Iriepa began dressing as a woman at ten years old so she says she has plenty of, “tolerance, all of the tolerance in the world”.

Many people in the couple’s neighborhood in Havana ask why she would marry a dissident and man who is HIV positive. Iriepa responds that, “people think that AIDS is a ferocious wolf, a bug that is coming to eat you. He is not the first positive man I have shared my life with. In the meantime I use a condom and protect myself, so I don´t have a problem with it.”

Wendy Iriepa arrives for the ceremony.
Photo: Jonathan Wolfe

Iriepa arrived to the event seated on the back of a red convertible and held a huge rainbow flag that matched the ribbons tied to her bouquet of red roses. Smiling and waving to onlookers, she seemed completely unaware of the rain that was sprinkling her white dress.

Many groups that are well known for criticizing the Castro government attended the celebration of around one hundred individuals. Women from The Ladies in White, a group of relatives and wives of political prisoners mingled with members of the gay community and dissident bloggers.

A representative from the U.S. interests section in Cuba was also in attendance with his wife.

At the reception, when asked about the significance of the wedding, witness and well-known dissident blogger Yaoni Sanchez said, “this is a first step, but now it is up to others to follow [the couple] from behind.”

When asked about their plans for the future Estrada, who has plans to open a center for LGBT individuals, responded, “we would like to make something together but we are not sure exactly. I think what we will create will be a foundation, a space for everyone. A space for youth.”

Cuba has seen years of abuse against the gay community including sending homosexuals to labor camps in the 1960´s, and the island nation is still oppressive towards LGBT individuals.

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19 more reader comments:

  1. That…is…AWESOME

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:30pm
  2. I am an LGBT man so I am not trying to hate or anything, but why did he marry her if he is gay? She is a woman, and he is a gay man…

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:31pm
  3. awee how sweet

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:31pm
  4. Being trans myself, I consider a gay marriage between two people of the same sex. Just saying :P I’d like my future wedding to be taken like any other average wedding.

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:32pm
  5. How is it a gay marriage if one of the people identifies as a woman?

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:32pm
  6. I’m not okay with the fact they call her husband a gay man. It infers they do not think of her as a woman.

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:32pm
  7. Well the law might go by biological sex. So technically (in the lawbooks) it would be same-sex.

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:33pm
  8. Congratz !

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:35pm
  9. Who cares about all the LABELS? Two people who love each other and have faced odds in their life have the courage to wed in Cuba have my admiration, respect and best wishes!

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:37pm
  10. We are the lawbooks. The hormones I was/was not exposed to in the womb determined my sex, not the nation I live in. A lot of transpeople care about labels, simply because we dislike being associated with specific stereotypes. Like if you are a transwoman, then you’re gay because you have a penis.

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:40pm
  11. Technically not a gay marriage, but hooray!

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:43pm
  12. splendid

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:44pm
  13. Wow you people are so trivial. Congrats to this couple, my trans wife and I applaud them :)

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:45pm
  14. I’m pretty sure she’s post OP, making her legally a female…

    Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 11:51pm
  15. Congrats to them reading this is an awesome thing today on my anniversary. As I celebrate my love with my wife it is nice to see that others are being allowed to express their love as well. Hopefully we continue moving towards everybody being allowed to everywhere.

    Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 12:10am
  16. Um… He’s obviously not gay if he’s marrying someone who identifies as a woman.. Whatev..

    Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 12:14am
  17. MaNi
    supports you,
    wants the best for you,
    understands you.

    Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 3:28am
  18. good for them…

    Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 3:57pm
  19. That doesn’t make any sense. How can he be gay if he’s marrying a transgender woman?

    Posted on Monday, August 15, 2011 at 6:05pm