July 29, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Cuban LGBT rights advocates arrive in D.C.
Cuba, Ignacio Estrada, Wendy Iriepa, Gay News, Casa Ruby, Washington Blade

Cuban LGBT activists Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Diaz visit Casa Ruby on Monday, July 29, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are visiting the United States for three months on Monday arrived in D.C.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz on Monday met with staffers of Us Helping Us, an HIV/AIDS service organization, and Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center. Estrada and Iriepa are also scheduled to meet with Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Capitol hill on Wednesday before they return to Miami.

Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, told the Blade while at Casa Ruby that he and Iriepa, a transgender woman who used to work for Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) — which is directed by Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro — want to “show how we live, how we work” in Cuba while they are in the U.S.

The couple, who married in a high-profile wedding in Havana, the Cuban capital, in 2011, said Mariela Castro presents what they described as a distorted reality of the island’s LGBT community to the world.

“Mariela totally manipulates the LGBT community,” Iriepa said.

Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to the U.S. to accept an award from Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group.

Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2010. Iriepa herself had SRS in 2007 while she worked at CENESEX.

Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. Cubans with the virus also have access to free anti-retroviral drugs.

CENESEX in May scheduled a series of events across Cuba to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Mariela Castro has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country.

“I am very proud of how we have advanced [LGBT rights in Cuba,]” she said during an Equality Forum panel in Philadelphia.

Estrada and Iriepa and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates remain critical of Mariela Castro and her father’s government.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities last September detained her as she left her Havana home to bring materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military services during the 1960s. Estrada said that las fall during a New York City panel organized by Cuba Archive – a group that documents human rights abuses on the island –  more than 500 people with HIV/AIDS remain in prison for what he described as the crime of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

When the Blade attempted to address criticisms from Estrada and other LGBT rights with Mariela Castro during a press conference before she accepted the Equality Forum award, the group’s Executive Director Malcolm Lazin interrupted, preventing the questions from being asked.

“You work for the community but you aren’t really from this community without rights,” Estrada told the Blade. “And without rights nothing can be achieved.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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  • YOUTUBE : CUBA DOCUMENTARY – "Conducta Impropria" – (Improper Conduct) – Part 1 of 12 –
    Este documental de Néstor Almendros y Orlando Jiménez Leal trata sobre la persecución de homosexuales e intelectuales en la Cuba castrista desde los inicios de la Revolución Cubana hasta los primeros años 80. En él se entrevista a varios nombres relevantes de la cultura cubana (Lorenzo Monreal, Reinaldo Arenas, Jorge Ronet, Luis Lazo, Rafael de Palet, Jorge Lago) y se demuestra la existencia de campos de concentración para gays en la Cuba de Castro.
    Mauvaise Conduite or Improper Conduct is a 1984 documentary film directed by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal. The documentary interviews Cuban refugees to explore the Cuban government's imprisonment of homosexuals, political dissidents, and Jehovah's Witnesses into concentration camps under its policy of Military Units to Aid Protection. The documentary was produced with the support of French television Antenne 2 and won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcF5ubWiy5k

  • GAY RIGHTS GO ALONG WITH HUMAN RIGHTS, MARIELA CASTRO! DUH!

    ALJAZEERA VIDEO: After 53 years of revolution, Cubans ar increasingly exasperated by the restrictions imposed on them by the country's change-averse communist regime. In spite of, or perhaps because of, recent modest economic reforms, activism is growing as the government's opponents overcome their fear of arrest and take to the streets. But it is not easy. Today, even the church based Ladies in White — a group of women relatives of imprisoned activists – say they are routinely spied on and arrested. Nevertheless, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Ladies are determined to keep up their protests, sensing that the regime's grip on power is fading and that sooner rather than later it will be forced to give way.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XgylqDUh5-I

    AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL VIDEO: Routine repression in Cuba – Harassment and detention of political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and bloggers across Cuba has risen sharply over the past 24 months. – Mar 22, 2012.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyWLTbHMHmc&feature=youtu.be

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