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‘The Moral High Ground’: Cuban Gay Rights Activist to Marry his Transsexual Wife on Fidel Castro’s Birthday

While civil rights for gay, lesbian and transsexual Americans are under attack and even being rolled back in many parts of the United States, LGBT rights are advancing in once-repressive communist Cuba.

According to Reuters, Cuban gay rights activist Ignacio Estrada will wed Wendy Iriepa, famous as the first recipient of the free sex change operations provided by the government beginning in 2007. They will marry on August 13, Fidel Castro’s 85th birthday.

Estrada calls the wedding “a gift” for Cuba’s revolutionary leader. The ceremony, which is authorized by the state and is free of charge (and includes free beer from the government), will be the first of its kind in a country that once persecuted people like them.

Although same-sex marriage isn’t currently legal in Cuba, Iriepa is legally a woman following her sexual reassignment surgery.

Contrast that with the current effort in Texas to strip transgendered individuals of their marriage rights, and you can see that in some aspects Cuba may be ahead of the United States when it comes to LGBT rights. In Cuba, gay sex has been legal since 1979. In Montana, it is a felony. Cuba has a vibrant gay scene; there are even Gay Pride parades and celebrations in Havana.

It wasn’t always this way in Cuba. Homosexuals were treated harshly in the heady early days of Castro’s revolution. They were often sent to concentration camps for nothing more than their sexual orientation. But Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, has embarked on a bold campaign of sexual education.

Fidel himself surprised many last year when he expressed regret for his earlier repression of homosexuals. “During those years, I didn’t have time to deal with the matter … I was too busy with the October (Cuban Missile) Crisis, war, and with political questions,” he said. “If anyone is responsible, it is me.”

Still, some in Cuba say that Mariela Castro has hijacked the gay rights movement and point to the fact that those who demonstrate independently of the government often face serious consequences.

But Estrada and Iriepa say their nuptials have nothing to do with politics. “I always wanted to marry … I wouldn’t want this to be seen as political, as though I’m attacking the government, or maybe Fidel and the revolution, I want people to see us as two people marking a ‘before’ and ‘after’,” Iriepa told Reuters. “I am a patriot and revolutionary because I am going to continue making revolution inside my country, and doing new things,” she said.

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