Cuban transgender woman says she was fired because her lover is with opposition,
Posted on Saturday, 07.09.11
Cuban transgender woman says she was fired because her lover is with
For Mariela Castro, gay rights are OK in Cuba but political rights are
not, says transgender woman.
By Juan O. Tamayo
A transgender woman has quit her job at a government-run sex studies
center headed by the daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, alleging that
Mariela Castro accused her of disloyalty because of her relationship
with a gay opposition activist.
Castro "challenged my life, (asking) why am I with my man?" said Wendy
Iriepa, 37, who added that she handed in her resignation Thursday to the
National Sex Education Center in Havana (CENESEX), which Castro heads.
Iriepa was a long-time fixture at the center: the first to benefit from
Castro's push for government approval of sex-change surgeries and steady
participant in center-organized events for Cuba's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Castro, who directs CENESEX, has long been known as an advocate for LGBT
rights and widely credited with lobbying the government to crack down on
discrimination against gays and offer benefits to LGBT community members.
But a small group of gays has accused her of monopolizing the LGBT
rights movement, demanding total loyalty to her father's government and
blocking efforts to establish gay rights groups that are independent of
the government-run CENESEX.
On June 28, a small group of independent gays and lesbians known as the
Observatory for LGBT Rights strolled down a Havana boulevard to mark Gay
Pride Day. That's a day Castro has refused to celebrate, arguing that
such a protest is not necessary in Cuba.
One of the Observatory members at the demonstration: Iriepa's lover,
Ignacio Estrada, a gay activist for the rights of HIV-positive Cubans
and self-described "opponent of the Castro government" who spoke at
length about the Iriepa case in a phone chat with El Nuevo Herald.
Castro summoned Iriepa to her office the day after the Gay Pride
celebration, showed her videos of Estrada's participation and asked "how
she could live, in bed and in a home, with an enemy of the revolution,"
The CENESEX director added that she had lost all trust in Iriepa, he
added, signaling that she would be demoted from her job arranging food
services for CENESEX functions and managing a list of people who seek
the center's help.
"I submitted my letter of resignation yesterday, noting it was due to
interference in my personal life. I never before had any political
problems," Iriepa told El Nuevo Herald before handing the phone to
Estrada because she was busy.
Iriepa and Estrada also claimed that she tasted Castro's food and
checked any gifts she received, but two Havana residents who know Iriepa
said she simply handled the food at the center.
Iriepa and Estrada also said they plan to marry later this year and that
as part of her job Iriepa usually tasted Castro's food and checked any
gifts she received. Two Havana residents who know Iriepa said she simply
handled the food at the center.
A woman who answered the phone at CENESEX on Friday said Castro was not
available to comment for this article and that no one else knew anything
about the Iriepa case.
Iriepa's sex-change surgery in 2007 was the first such procedure
performed in Cuba after Castro and CENESEX had started to push the
government, which owns all hospitals on the island, to approve the
She was interviewed for several news reports about LGBT rights in Cuba,
Castro and CENESEX, and often marched prominently next to Castro at
events organized by the center.
Her surgery "has been a sign of humanity that the Cuban government has
given. We have a lot to be thankful for," Iriepa declared in one
interview with the British Reuters news agency.
In a separate interview, she thanked Castro and said the sex studies
center had helped her understand her rights, noting that even though it
is legal for cross-dressers to wear women's clothes in Cuba, police
often issue them fines.
The Gay Pride celebration last month, though it drew no more than 20
participants, cast a spotlight on the growing activism by a wide range
of independent groups — gays, blacks, artists and farmers, among others
— seeking a stronger voice in Cuba's affairs.
But a gay Havana man who blogs under the name of "Paquito el de Cuba"
and supports the Castro government made a thinly veiled accusation in a
July 4 post that the independent gays and lesbians are being supported
by enemies of the revolution.
He noted an El Nuevo Herald report last month that the U.S. State
Department planned to commit $300,000 this year to help Cuba's LGBT
community, and that an organizer of the Gay Pride celebration had met
with former President Jimmy Carter in March.
"Not one word more," he concluded, as though he had proven his point.