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.
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. “It’s the happiest day of my life,” Wendy Iriepa gushes.
After the ceremony, they had their photographs taken in front of a two-tiered wedding cake, kissed again and then followed Cuban tradition by riding through the streets in a convertible, the horn blaring a few notes of wedding music.
“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.”
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.
But the wedding, held on Fidel Castro’s 85th birthday in what the couple had called a “gift” to the former leader, was aimed at advancing homosexual rights in Cuba and tinged with politics as some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents participated and U.S. diplomats attended in a public show of support.
It is also 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.
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 Center and is firmly established in Cuban officialdom.
“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.”
Mariela Castro said she was not invited to the wedding and accused rivals in the gay community of taking democracy-building money from Washington.
“U.S. government funds exist here to create LGBT (lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual) groups that oppose the position of the National Sex Education Center,” she alleged.
Prominent dissident Yoani Sanchez was the maid of honor at Saturday’s ceremony, which was attended by a couple dozen family and friends, many of them from the opposition and gay communities.