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Two men charged with providing the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed a beloved trans activist

Two men charged with providing the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed a beloved trans activist
Transgender rights activist Cecilia Gentili Photo: Leah James

Two men have been charged for providing the fentanyl-laced heroin that killed prominent transgender rights activist Cecilia Gentili in February.

A press release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) named the alleged perpetrators as Michael Kuilan and Antonio Venti and said Gentili died due to the “combined effect of fentanyl, heroin, xylazine, and cocaine.”

“Cecilia Gentili, a prominent activist and leader of the New York transgender community, was tragically poisoned in her Brooklyn home from fentanyl-laced heroin. Today, the alleged perpetrators who sold the deadly dose of drugs to Gentili have been arrested,” said Beron Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

“Fentanyl is a public health crisis. Our Office will spare no effort in the pursuit of justice for the many New Yorkers who have lost loved ones due to this lethal drug.”

NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban added that the four-count indictment “delivers a strong message to anyone who profits from poisoning our communities with illicit drugs: There are dedicated investigators, across multiple agencies, working tirelessly to disrupt your shameful industry by pinpointing the source of these unlawful substances.”

According to Frank Tarentino, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York Division, fentanyl has been responsible for 70% of nationwide drug-related deaths.

“The death of Ms. Gentile is a reminder of the dangers that illicit drugs have on all communities, including the LGBTQ+ community,” he said.  

Gentili struggled with addiction throughout her life, an affliction more common among LGBTQ+ people than the general population.

The press release also said “hundreds of baggies of fentanyl” were found in Kuilan’s apartment and that text messages and cell data show that Venti sold Gentili the heroin/fentanyl mixture on February 5, 2024 – with Kuilan having supplied the drugs to Venti.

Gentili was a revered activist, actress, and author whose contributions to the trans community cannot be overstated.

Born and raised in Argentina, she was granted political asylum in 2011. 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.

She also appeared on the hit trans-led TV drama series Pose.

In a tribute to Gentili on the House floor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called her a “become of hope for so many communities” and noted that Gentili’s mission wasn’t finished. She vowed that “together we’ll continue her fight for equality – especially for trans youth.”

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

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