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Cuban LGBT dissidents visiting Miami: Don’t believe Mariela Castro about gay rights on the island

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Eight weeks after Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, received a gay equality award in Philadelphia, two of the island’s best-known LGBT dissidents are in Miami warning American activists not to believe what she says.

“I want to say to the LGBT community of the United States, don’t let Mariela fool you,” said Cuban activist Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman who used to work with Castro at CENESEX, the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. “Don’t let the American community be used, as she is using you right now with the LGBT community in Cuba.”

Iriepa and husband Ignacio Estrada Cepero, a gay man, will participate Tuesday night in a Spanish-language discussion about gay rights in Cuba at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus.

With permission of the Cuban government, the Havana couple arrived in Miami June 26 and will spend three months in the United States interacting with South Florida activists. “We are living a dream, confronting the Cuban society, to suddenly come to the United States and see everything that has been negated and denied and prohibited by the Cuban government,” Estrada said.

An advocate for gay marriage and transgender equality, sexologist Mariela Castro has been a highly visible gay-rights figure in Cuba, where until several years ago LGBT people were treated as outcasts and often sent to hard-labor camps.

Some Cuban Americans protested in May when Castro was honored at the gay Equality Forum in Philadelphia, and the year before when she spoke to LGBT activists in San Francisco and at the New York Public Library.

“Everything is fake, it’s false,” Iriepa said of Castro’s portrayal of modern-day Cuba. “The gays still feel repression. When the police come, they say you have to leave here. Mariela sells to the world the same image the Cuban government does. Everything from the outside looks beautiful, but when you go inside, everything is not.”

Iriepa said that for years she sought sex reassignment surgery, but didn’t get it until she pledged loyalty to the Castro regime.

“In 1997, the director of CENESEX gave me a letter,” she told the Miami Herald on Monday. “The letter said in order to have the operation, you have to maintain a socially correct and revolutionary — support the government.”

Ten years later, the Cuban government paid for Iriepa’s surgery, part of a pilot program added to the island’s universal healthcare system. “I don’t recognize that the Cuban government paid for my operation,” she said. “I had been waiting for that for years. They finally did it.”

In 2011, Iriepa and Estrada celebrated a highly publicized wedding. “We are the first gay couple,” she said.

Despite speaking out against the Cuban government during their U.S. visit, Iriepa and her husband plan to return next fall to the island.

“We are people who have a life project,” Estrada said. “We have a group of people who identify with us. We are the most visible face of the Cuban LGBT community.”


What: Conversation in Spanish with Cuban LGBT activists Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada Cepero

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, Room 7128, 500 NE Second Ave.

Cost: Free


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Can I view this online tommorrow??

No video interview, sorry.

I suggest you attend the discussion at Miami Dade College.


I find it to be hilarious the ungratefulness of Ms. Iriepa that she complains about the Cuban government paying for her sex change after she pledged allegiance to the revolution. A small price to pay don't you think for the high cost of a sex change. I mean did you really mean it? Obviously not yet they didn't come back for a refund. In this country you can pledge allegiance all you want till the cows come home. The government is not paying for your sex change so you better have some cold hard cash to get it done. Most can't afford it and few health insurance plans cover it. Welcome to American! By the way, if you stay, I suggest getting a job like the rest of us because holding discussions at Miami Dade College like you're someone special isn't going to get the rent paid or put food on the table. Fact is most of us don't really care about the happenings in Cuba. LGBT or otherwise.

Envigado, Colombia Julio 1 de 2013
De: Mai y Hazel
Para: El Mundo
Nosotras; Margarita María Pérez Peláez (Mai) ciudadana Colombiana, residente en mi país y Hazel Medina López ciudadana CubanoAmericana, nacionalizada y residente en USA, agradecemos de corazón; asumiendo en amor y felicidad; con dignidad y responsabilidad en compromiso personal como en pareja, todo el esfuerzo y generosidad de Activistas, Abogados, Jueces, Senadores, Congresistas y Presidentes de los países que han reconocido y legalizado las uniones de ciudadanos homosexuales porque desde sus capacidades espirituales, humanas e intelectuales; asumieron su deber por el reconocimiento de nuestros derechos civiles-matrimoniales-familiares-sociales-profesionales y laborales de orientación homosexual. "De nosotros, seres humanos y ciudadanos del mundo que somos". Con profunda fe, invitamos a todos los países del mundo, a sus estamentos gubernamentales, civiles y religiosos a ser parte de la solución en pro de la armonía en la coexistencia, Justicia y de la salud en la convivencia humana.
From: Mai & Hazel
To: The World
We, Margarita Maria Perez Peláez, Colombian citizen, living in my country and Hazel Medina Lopez, nationalized Cuban American citizen; living in the USA, we heartily thank, taking on love and happiness, with dignity and responsibility in personal commitment as a couple, all the effort and generosity Activists, Lawyers, Judges, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents of the countries that have recognized and legalized unions for homosexual citizens from their spiritual capacities, human and intellectual duty assumed by the recognition of our civil-marriage-family-social-work professionals and homosexual orientation. "From us, human beings, citizens of the world who we are. “With deep faith, we invite all countries of the world, their levels of government, civil and religious to be part of the solution towards harmony in coexistence, justice and health in human society.

She "doesn't recognize" that the Cuban government paid for her surgery even though the Cuban government DID pay for her surgery?

Um, ok. Sounds completely rational.

This is despicable. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. You don't get it. Steven, you are a sign of what is wrong with society. What if the heterosexual community really came out it full force against the homosexual community? What if there were blatant discrimination (like during the Civil Rights Era)? Guess what, there aren't and what's more is no one has to accept you or the rest of the homosexual community.

The only problem is that people who are against gays will not go out in public and do anything about it because bleeding liberals have them subjugated into thinking that they are the ones who are wrong. Guess what there are less people than you think who sympathize with your community. Get over it.

As a Canadian, I have been to Cuba 25 times during the past 7 years. The vitality and freedom of the gay community and simply being gay is very noticeable in Cuba, not just with my gay friends. Of course, there are the usual tensions within some families and by a minority of the general population that for religious or other reasons do not accept the gay reality of life. But this ungrateful couple appear to have a personal agenda that has clouded their ability to appreciate how they have benefited from the work of Mariela Castro and others. Shame!


YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY - "Conducta Impropria" - (Improper Conduct) - Part 1 of 12 -
Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.


ALJAZEERA VIDEO: Cuba dissidents Ladies in White - After 53 years of revolution, Cubans ar increasingly exasperated by the restrictions imposed on them by the country's change-averse communist regime. In spite of, or perhaps because of, recent modest economic reforms, activism is growing as the government's opponents overcome their fear of arrest and take to the streets. But it is not easy. Today, even the church based Ladies in White -- a group of women relatives of imprisoned activists - say they are routinely spied on and arrested. Nevertheless, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Ladies are determined to keep up their protests, sensing that the regime's grip on power is fading and that sooner rather than later it will be forced to give way.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL VIDEO: Routine repression in Cuba - Harassment and detention of political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and bloggers across Cuba has risen sharply over the past 24 months. - Mar 22, 2012

@Yosmani Grindal-Grafals - you are the one that is wrong. i hope for your sake that your children do not turn out gay. you have no clue about what being gay is. it's not a choice. it's something you are born with, like the color of your skin. then again, you are probably also racist, during the Civil Right Era you would have been on the wrong side of history, just like you are now.... wake up buddy, times are changing. Not because of "bleeding liberals," truth is out, there is more information and communication in the world, homosexuality has excited since the beginning of time, You should get over it. You have no idea how much gay people have suffered due to ignorants people... people like you! This is about human rights.

The majority of comments from foreign peoples, who visit the island almost every year, talk about the freedoms in Cuba and the rights of the LGBT community, Reading those comments, I imagine that CENESEX and the PCC have done a good and incredible job.

Cuba is very NICE to FOREIGNERS and Cuban’s instead seen and lives just the opposite way. At the end, this is just what is about the testimony of this Cuban couple.

I do not see any benefit in a government that makes me sign a letter with political restrictions to my self, in change of a surgery. That's look more as a blackmail than a free service.

Is it cheap at the end is very expensive.

This is not a leyend. It Happen in Cuba with the same goberment that is in the isla today. Under the image for Cuba's Fidel Castro, the legend reads: "A deviation of this nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist should be." - The Military Units to Aid Production or UMAP forced labor camps were created in Cuba in 1965 by Ernesto "Ché" Guevara and remained active until 1968. During the years 1961 of 1962, homosexuals were imprisoned at the Diego Perez Cape, accused of being effeminate and of loitering. During large-scale political actions, thousands of young people were arrested in their own homes and forcefully taken by trains, trucks and buses to deportation camps in the province of Camagüey. From there, they were transferred to agricultural areas for forced work cutting hollow bamboo [sugar] canes. Housed in in an unhealthy environment, they were placed in camps surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Gays were treated inhumanly. An approximate 4,000 homosexuals were persecuted.

I'm delighted to hear that Ignacio and Wendy have arrived in the USA. I look forward to them touring, so that those of us that live outside of Florida can go see them.

Anyway, for those that say that Wendy has to be grateful to the "revolution" for providing her with a sex change operation, why should she be grateful to a tyranny that has enslaved the Cuban people for 54 years and sent thousands of members of the LGBT community to the infamous UMAP's? Where are the reparations? Sorry, but Fidel Castro's half-hearted statement claiming responsibility doesn't cut the cake.

That said, Mariela Castro crossed the line when she forced Wendy to choose between the "revolution" and the man that she loves, Ignacio. Mariela treats LGBT like her personal little pets and she expects undying loyalty in exchange for little handouts like controlled gay parades and sex reassignment surgeries.

Ignacio and Wendy are brave for speaking out. Thank you, Steve, for reporting on them. If you find out what cities Ignacio and Wendy will visit while on their talking tour, please let us know. Thanks.

I still want to know who paid for the operation? There's a mixed bag here as if social and governmental persecution of lgbtq people was/is unique to Cuba in the Caribbean. Some of the same social ills and issues of democracy I see in other Caribbean and Latin American countries and even worse and they are never pointed out.

To Fadoyin: comparisons are odious. Even if the same social ills and issues of democracy [may] occur in other Caribbean and Latin American countries, this does not mean that we should keep quiet about what is going on in Cuba. Cuba is not joined at the hip to other countries in the region. What's more, Cuba has the unique and unfortunate singularity of being the only country in the region that at one time created concentration camps for gays. Countries that were far more homophobic than Cuba in the 1950's, countries like Mexico, today, have massive and independent gay rights parades and large numbers of gay rights groups, what's more, gay marriages are legal in various cities across Latin America, but not in Cuba [none of this is possible in Cuba], a country that for all of its social ills in the 1950s, provided more opportunities for gay people [that is to say freedoms than the other Latin and Caribbean countries], but has since became far more reactionary and tenfold homophobic with the advent of the so-called "revolution," [that is to say, the tyranny] and therefore has fallen far behind its regional neighbors with regards to gay issues.

Thank you very much, Ignacio and Wendy, for pointing out what some of us have been saying for a long time: that Mariela Castro is a hard core Communist. In Communist Cuba, if you are not for the Communist Revolution, then you are basically considered a nobody. It is pathetic to see the criticism of this couple, who is pointing out the sad truth about the dictatorship ninety miles away.

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