AOC pays tribute to trailblazing trans icon Cecilia Gentili on House floor

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) arrives as the House of Representatives holds an election for a new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on October 25, 2023 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) arrives as the House of Representatives holds an election for a new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on October 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty Images

Immigrant transgender activist, actress, and author Cecilia Gentili passed away from undisclosed causes last week at the age of 52. Her passing received tributes from her Pose co-stars, LGBTQ+ organizations, politicians, activists, and the many people she helped during her too-brief life.

But this week, the honors extended to the nation’s capitol as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) gave tribute to the powerhouse on the House floor.

Posting a clip from her speech on Twitter, AOC noted that Gentili’s mission wasn’t finished and vowed that “together we’ll continue her fight for equality – especially for trans youth.”

“Cecilia was a beacon of hope for so many communities,” Ocasio-Cortez solemnly noted in her tribute. She provided her colleagues with the details of Gentili’s life and accomplishments before pointing out that the passionate activist would be fighting against legislation under consideration that would discriminate against transgender youth.

“Our community will continue to remember Cecilia as an unwavering leader in the fight for equality,” she concluded.

Born in Argentina, Gentili moved to Miami, Florida, in 1999 when she was 26.

“It took me months to save up, and once I bought my ticket, I took a plane to the U.S. with only $35 in my pocket. The cab ride alone from the airport was $25,” she said.

During her next five years in Miami, she couldn’t find work due to being an undocumented immigrant. Though she moved to New York City in 2003, in both Miami and New York, she did sex work while struggling with addiction, undergoing multiple arrests, and facing the threat of deportation. Her experiences would form the cornerstone of her future activism.

In 2010, she began an internship with The LGBT Center’s NYC Anti-Violence Project, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ survivors of violence. She was granted political asylum in 2011, legally changing her name and entering an addiction recovery program shortly after.

From 2012 until 2016, she worked for the Apicha Community Health Center, managing a trans health clinic that she grew from four patients to over 500. From 2016 to 2019, she worked as the Director of Policy at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first organization dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention.

While there, she fought hard for the passage of GENDA, the New York Gender Expression and Nondiscrimination Act, which bans discrimination based on gender expression and identity and became law in 2019. Gentili also created the TGNC Equity Coalition, which fights for equitable policies, and also won direct funding from the city for trans-led organizations.

She helped establish and lead the DecrimNY campaign, which worked to decriminalize sex work in New York City as well as repeal the city’s “walking while trans” law, which was used by police to harass and arrest trans women for the crime of “loitering for the purposes of prostitution.” She also served as one of the lead plaintiffs in a successful challenge against the administration of President Donald Trump and its attempt to roll back trans protections in the Affordable Care Act.

She helped lead the Lorena Borjas Trans Equity Fund NYC, which gave over $1.8 million to trans advocacy organizations. In 2019, she also founded Trans Equity Consulting. There, she and her all-transgender staff advised companies, nonprofits, and governments on equitable transgender inclusion, particularly for trans women of color, immigrants, sex workers, and incarcerated people.

In 2020, she also hosted the Fierce Futures fundraiser for organizations aiding Black trans people and, in 2021, co-founded Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. It was the first healthcare center dedicated to sex workers. In 2023, she helped found Transmissions Fest, New York City’s first all-trans music festival — its profits benefitted LGBTQ+ charities.

Gentili’s life experience also informed her artistry. In 2017, she performed her one-woman autobiographical show The Knife Cuts Both Ways. In 2018 and 2019, she appeared in Pose, playing the role of Ms. Orlando, a shady New York City pumper who offered back alley cosmetic procedures. In 2022, she released her debut memoir Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist and, in 2023, performed her autobiographical off-Broadway show Red Ink.

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