Cuba: First “Gay” Marriage

The wedding invitation, posted online by blogger Yoani Sanchez on August 11, 2011, was as untraditional as the wedding itself:

The wedding of Wendy and Ignacio will be this coming Saturday, August [1]3, 2011, at 3:00 PM in the Vibora neighborhood Wedding Palace at Maia Rodríguez and Patrocinio streets, telephone +537-640-7004.

Anyone who would like to go is invited: friends, acquaintances, curious neighbors, stigmatizers and discriminators of all kinds, official paparazzi, self-employed photographers, bloggers, independent journalists, CENESEX workers — Mariela Castro included — foreign and national press, homosexuals, gays, lesbians, transsexuals and heterosexuals. The doors will also open to people who think that now is the time for Cuba to open itself to modernity and modernity to open itself to Cuba.

Against all odds, it happened: a gay man, Ignacio Estrada, and a trans-sexual woman, got married. In Cuba. On the same day that Fidel Castro turned 85. This was a landmark event, because, according to Havana Times:

While same-sex marriage is not legal in Cuba, the bride, Wendy Iriepa, a transsexual, now has her ID card listing her as a woman.

The ceremony therefore proceeded with no obstruction and was deemed perfectly legal. Havana Times explains:

Wendy had a sex change operation four years ago thanks to CENESEX, the Sex Education Center led by President Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, an advocate of LGBT rights.

CENESEX is trying to convince the Cuban parliament to legalize same sex marriage.

As the day approached, bloggers could feel the excitement. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo posted this update:

The people in Cuba are ever more supportive…

A sea of people tell me they are going to the wedding…

It doesn’t matter to anyone about having an official invitation or not…

All of Havana fits inside the Maya Rodriguez Marriage Palace…It will be a true gayvolution…!!!

All you need is love!

According to Yoani Sanchez's tweets describing the scene at la Plaza de la Revolucion [ES], it seems as if that “sea of people” did in fact show up to witness the nuptials – and Havana Times has the photos to prove it.

The fact that Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, acted as best man and matron of honour at the wedding, has caused other bloggers to focus the spotlight on possible hidden agendas behind the high-profile wedding. The Cuban Triangle says:

Yoani Sanchez was maid of honor, some of the Damas de Blanco attended, and some U.S. diplomats were reportedly in attendance.

All that, plus the fact that the Obama Administration is dedicating some of its Cuba democracy funding to Cuba’s gay community, led Mariela Castro to say the blessed event was a U.S. show, or was hijacked to make it so.

It is reasonable to raise that question, and in fairness one has to say that if the U.S. government paid for the car, the dress, the hair, the nails, the tux, the drinks, and a roast pig and sides, then more was accomplished than with the Alan Gross operation, which cost more than $600,000 and put one guy in jail and lots of nice equipment in the hands of the Ministry of Interior. Algo es algo.

The blogger also noted that:

Paris-based writer Zoe Valdes viewed the entire event as a show of a different kind, one mounted to distract from human rights abuses by the Cuban government. “Pure propaganda of Raulismo light and Cenesex,” she calls it.

Valdes posts a photo of the couple in their convertible, right in the middle of the Plaza de la Revolucion, asking where was the police deployment that Yoani described.

Sanchez, in a post published the day after the wedding, explains her decision to be involved, tracing it back to her memories of Cusio, a gay childhood friend to whom “[she] owe[s] [her] predisposition to consider it a normal thing that two men would decide to love each other, or that two women would join their lives as a couple”:

He came strongly to mind when I accepted the unusual, irreverent and surprising proposal to be the matron of honor at the first wedding in Cuba between a transsexual and a gay man.

Wendy and Ignacio – the couple to whom I now have the pleasure of being the matron of honor — who reflect much of the suffering I knew in Cusio, a part of the torment he had to carry. To be a witness to this union between a girl who once had the name of a boy, and the HIV positive young man crushed both by homophobia and political intolerance, constitutes my personal way of honoring the boy who taught me to respect differences.

The post goes on to document Ignacio's going to jail “very young for handing out proclamations with the Declaration of Human Rights” and Wendy's alleged victimisation at the hands of the Center for the Study of Sexuality (CENESEX), (which is headed by Mariela Castro), before acknowledging what a milestone it is in the life of the country:

Before leaving CENESEX, Wendy Iriepa had managed to have the surgery that aligned her mind with her body. She also achieved the dream of many Cuban transsexuals, having an identity card with a female name.

Thus, they slipped through the gap left by the law, in a country where gay marriage is not allowed. But preventing them from validating their relationship in the eyes of the law, would have gone against Mariela Castro herself, who had given the order to issue Wendy an ID card as a woman. Although the National Assembly has not yet approved — or even discussed — the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples, Ignacio and Wendy managed to get ahead of the bureaucracy.

To me it was left only to support them in their decision, to watch them rise to the occasion before each new obstacle, to witness their happy smiles and to know they were already a couple. But they have faced it all, overcoming the mockery of many, the pressure of the political police who saw the wedding as a provocation, the discomfort of Mariela Castro whose absence at the Wedding Palace showed her disapproval*. We could celebrate thanks to the strength of their love that allowed them to ignore the anti-gay jokes, the insults, the testosterone-filled official discourse and the aggressive stance of the troublemakers common to every neighborhood.

*The Cuban Triangle‘s post maintains that “Ms. Castro nonetheless congratulated the happy couple.”

Perceived political agendas aside, what happened on Saturday was a first for Cuba, a milestone which Generation Y hopes has “set an important precedent, one that has given us a lesson, a jolt, a burst of energy…[and] for one afternoon, for one brief afternoon, [has] placed our country into the third millennium, into the desired time of ‘now.'”

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Gay Pride Flag” is by sigmaration, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Creative Commons License. Visit sigmaration's flickr photostream.


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