July 31, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
EXCLUSIVE: Fla. congresswoman meets with Cuban LGBT rights activists
Wendy Iriepa, Ignacio Estrada, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, House of Representatives, Republicans, Florida, Gay News, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero meet with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) to discuss human rights in Cuba in the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday met with two Cuban LGBT rights activists in her Capitol Hill office.

The Washington Blade had exclusive access to the majority of the meeting between the Cuban-born Republican who represents portions of Miami-Dade County and Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero that lasted more than half an hour.

Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS in 2005, dismissed the Cuban government’s claims that people with HIV/AIDS receive free anti-retroviral drugs and other treatment under the island’s health care system. He and Iriepa, a transgender woman whom he married in a high-profile wedding in the Cuban capital of Havana in 2011, also criticized Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) that has publicly backed LGBT rights in the country.

Cuba has offered free sex-reassignment surgeries to trans Cubans under the country’s health care system in 2008.

Iriepa, who worked for CENESEX for seven years until she married Estrada, underwent the procedure herself in 2007. She told the Blade during an interview earlier this week that only 20 trans Cubans have received SRS since the law changed – and CENESEX determines those who will actually receive it.

Estrada and Iriepa arrived in D.C. on Monday and are scheduled to return to Miami tomorrow.

They are in the nation’s capital less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to Philadelphia to receive an award from Equality Forum, an LGBT advocacy group.

Mariela Castro in May 2012 appeared on a New York City panel with Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Mariela Castro also met with LGBT rights advocates in San Francisco while she was in the U.S.

“With these international trips, with this amount of recognition she has undermined the work of the (Cuban) LGBT community,” Estrada told Ros-Lehtinen as he showed her posters of Pride walks and other events that he and other Cuban LGBT rights advocates organized independent of CENESEX. “You are seeing a broken policy.”

Ros-Lehtinen applauded Estrada and Iriepa at the end of the meeting.

“I feel very honored to be able to meet you,” she said. “I am grateful to you for filling this tremendous role inside of Cuba that is certainly not easy.”

“It’s very important for the U.S. community to understand what is the status of LGBT rights and the denial of rights in Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade after the meeting. “Mariela Castro, as part of the regime, has been on a propaganda tour internationally and here in the U.S. especially trying to sell this facade that is really non-existent in Cuba.”

A Cuban government representative did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comments about Estrada and Iriepa’s meeting with Ros-Lehtinen.

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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