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Late trans activist and actress Cecilia Gentili honored from New York City to Congress

Gentili was an outspoken advocate for the rights of transgender people, immigrants and sex workers. She also appeared on the hit TV series “Pose.”
Cecilia Gentili at a rally to decriminalize the sex trades in New York in 2019.
Cecilia Gentili at a rally in New York in 2019. She spent her life advocating for the rights of sex workers, immigrants and trans people.Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images

Cecilia Gentili, an Argentina-born artist and activist known for her work in the immigrant and transgender rights movements in New York City, is being widely remembered following her death last week. She was 52.

New Yorkers filled the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral Thursday to attend a memorial service commemorating her life and legacy as a trailblazing transgender icon, actress and advocate for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities.

Gentili passed away on Feb. 6 in her Brooklyn home, The New York Times reported. Her cause of death has not been revealed.

Cecilia Gentili attends the 2023 New York City Pride Rally.
Prominent lawmakers, actors and members of the LGBTQ community have paid tribute to Gentili.John Nacion / Getty Images file

An Instagram post confirming her death received an outpouring of support from prominent Latinos and members of the LGBTQ community.

“Rest in power Cecilia,” wrote “Pose” star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez.

“You changed the world. We love you so much. We will never forget you,” said activist and writer Alok Vaid-Menon.

Through her advocacy work, Gentili was vocal about the struggles she endured as a child surviving sexual abuse in 1970s Argentina. She came to the U.S. in the early 2000s as an undocumented immigrant who was a sex worker, struggled with homelessness and suffered from a heroin addiction.

From going to rehab and getting clean to working with LGBTQ community centers, Gentili eventually turned her life around and received asylum in 2012, almost a decade after she initially fled Argentina in search of a better life.

In 2018, she founded Trans Equity Consulting to advise companies on equity issues and advocate for trans women of color, sex workers, immigrants and incarcerated people.

Gentili’s activism was crucial in helping pass the New York state Gender Expression and Discrimination Act in 2019 and successfully fighting back against the Trump administration when it sought to roll back trans protections in the Affordable Care Act.

“I have spent the last decade of my life fighting for the decriminalization of sex work for adults, to heal all of those times I have been harassed, beaten and raped — not by clients but by law enforcement officials,” Gentili wrote in a New York Times guest essay in 2021.

Prominent New York lawmakers have also remembered Gentili, with tributes coming in from Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, among others.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., spoke about Gentili’s accomplishments on the House floor Wednesday, saying, “Cecilia was a beacon of hope for so many communities in my district.”

“Our community will continue to remember Cecilia as an unwavering leader in the fight for equality,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Gentili had been working to decriminalize sex work up until her death through another one of her organizations, DecrimNY, even helping draft legislation to do so. At least one such bill is being considered in committee in Albany.

“Cecilia, who just celebrated her 52nd birthday last week, took pride in being a transgender elder because she did not think that she would live past 21 years old,” the organization wrote on Instagram.

Gentili turned to acting in 2013 when she performed a monologue at a trans pride storytelling event. Her one-woman show called “Red Ink” debuted off-Broadway in October at the renowned Rattlestick Theater in the West Village and was slated to make a comeback at The Public Theater this April.

She also appeared in Season 1 of the hit TV show “Pose,” portraying a New York City woman named Miss Orlando who provided discounted plastic surgery.

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