Cecilia Gentili (Photo courtesy of Gentili’s Instagram page)
A towering presence in New York’s transgender community has died.
In a post to her Instagram account on February 6th, it was announced that the 52-year-old Argentina-born Cecilia Gentili had passed away.
“Our beloved Cecilia Gentili passed away this morning to continue watching over us in spirit,” the tribute read. “Please be gentle with each other and love one another with ferocity. We will be sharing more updates about services and what is to come in the following days. At this time, we’re asking for privacy, time and space to grieve.”
An undocumented immigrant and then asylum seeker from Argentina, Gentili came to the U.S. pursuing a safer life to live authentically as a trans woman. She lived undocumented for 10 years, hustling, doing sex work which came with drug use. After surviving arrests and an immigration detention, she accessed recovery services and won asylum.
Among Gentili’s accomplishments was her work as a co-founder of her namesake COIN Clinic (Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network) at Callen-Lorde, a New York-based leader in LGBTQ health care. She later was the managing director of policy for the world-renowned GMHC (originally the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.)
With her background in the sex industry, she was a founding member of Decrim NY, a coalition working toward decriminalization, decarceration and destigmatization of people in the sex trade. Gentili’s work focused on reducing coercion and promoting safety.
Decrim’s mission statement notes that decriminalization empowers sex workers to screen clients, negotiate condom use and work collaboratively without the fear of criminalization, thereby reducing coercion and promoting safety.
She founded Trans Equity Consulting and collaborated with many major organizations on trans and nonbinary rights. In addition to her advocacy and activist work, Gentili was an actress of note starring in the Netflix/FX hit series “Pose” as Ms. Orlando, the groundbreaking drama about the experiences of trans women of color set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York.
GLAAD notes that Gentili’s memoir, “Faltas,” was published in late 2022 by Little Puss Press, Inc, and won an American Library Association’s 2023 Stonewall Book Award for nonfiction. Her one-woman show “Red Ink” was slated to make a comeback at the Public Theater this April.
Gentili was also a leading voice among the hundreds of New York Times contributors speaking out against the Times’ biased and inaccurate coverage of trans people and their essential mainstream health care.
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis reacted to news of Gentili’s death posting to X:
“Cecilia Gentili’s death is such a huge loss. She impacted so many, especially those in the trans community in New York City and beyond,” wrote Ellis. “This is the power of one person who used her identity and gifts to help more people be seen and heard. In the art she created, in the stories she shared, in the community she uplifted, in the people she served, Cecilia’s talent and love will never be forgotten.”
Chase Strangio, deputy director for Transgender Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National’s LGBT and HIV Project commented:
“15 years of deep trans love and storytelling. I am forever grateful. We grieved so many losses together. It feels impossible to grieve your loss. I will carry you always. I love you.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul posted a picture of the two of them on Instagram and stated: “New York’s LGBTQ+ community has lost a champion in trans icon Cecilia Gentili. As an artist and steadfast activist in the trans rights movement, she helped countless people find love, joy and acceptance. Our hearts are with her loved ones in this difficult time.”
Callen-Lorde released the following statement from CEO Patrick McGovern: “We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Cecilia Gentili. Cecilia was a fierce, fearless advocate and a leader, who spoke candidly about her own experiences as a trans woman of color. In doing so, she inspired countless others and truly paved the way for our communities — especially, sex workers and trans women of color — to access high quality and judgment free healthcare. Her legacy will live on through our work at Callen-Lorde and beyond.”
New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal issued a statement describing the work and impact Gentili delivered: “I’m devastated to learn of the passing of Cecilia Gentili, a pathbreaking civil rights activist, healthcare advocate, author and actress. I was honored to work with Cecilia on many issues in Albany as we passed legislation enshrining the civil rights protections for transgender New Yorkers into law, including the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA), ending the so-called ban on ‘walking while trans,’ eliminating the gay and trans panic defense in our criminal statutes, making New York a safe haven for transgender youth and their parents seeking gender-affirming care, and the creation of the New York State Lorena Borjas TGNB Wellness and Equity Fund. We could not have passed the multitude of bills improving the lives of transgender New Yorkers without her help and guidance. Cecilia was a force of nature who leaves a long trailblazing legacy behind. l will miss her deeply.”
Details of circumstances surrounding her death were unavailable and announcement of services will be shared at a later date, according to the Instagram post.
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