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.”