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Cuba transgender wedding shows shifting attitudes

A gay man and a transgender woman have tied the knot in Cuba in a first-of-its kind wedding for the country.

Transsexual Wendy Iriepa arrives for her wedding with best man Reinaldo Escobar in Havana, Cuba, Saturday Aug. 13, 2011.
Transsexual Wendy Iriepa arrives for her wedding with best man Reinaldo Escobar in Havana, Cuba, Saturday Aug. 13, 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Javier Galeano

A GAY MAN and a woman whose sex-change operation was paid for by the state tied the knot Saturday in a first-of-its-kind wedding for Cuba, a sign of how much the country’s attitude toward sexuality has changed since gays and transsexuals suffered persecution in the early years after the revolution.

Bride Wendy Iriepa, 37, arrived at a Havana wedding hall in the afternoon in a vintage Ford convertible and a full white wedding gown, flowers in her hair and holding a rainbow flag. Neighborhood residents came out of their homes to gawk at the wedding party and the journalists mobbing the car.

“This is the first wedding between a transsexual woman and a gay man,” said the 31-year-old groom, Ignacio Estrada. “We celebrate it at the top of our voices and affirm that this is a step forward for the gay community in Cuba.”

Inside, a public notary joined them in a brief civil ceremony and the newlyweds kissed to cheers from friends and family.

Gay marriage is not legal in Cuba and Saturday’s wedding does nothing to change that since Iriepa, born Alexis, is a woman in the eyes of the law.

Iriepa had sex-change surgery in 2007 as part of a pilot program that began in earnest the following year and made gender-reassignment procedures part of the island’s universal health care system. One other transgender woman married many years ago, but Iriepa is the first to do so under the new policy.

In the early years after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, homosexuality was considered highly suspect along with other “alternative” forms of expression, such as US 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.

Today, even if deep-seated macho attitudes toward homosexuality have not entirely disappeared, the island and its government are much more tolerant.

The country’s most prominent gay rights activist is Mariela Castro, Fidel Castro’s niece and President Raul Castro’s daughter. She heads the National Sex Education Centre and is firmly established in Cuban officialdom.

At a transgender event Friday, she spoke of her institution’s work, including anti-homophobia campaigns and pushing the state to cover the sex change operations. Castro is also lobbying for same-sex unions, though no law has yet been passed.

“One of our accomplishments has made it possible for Wendy to get married,” she said. “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.”

- AP

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