LGBTQ+ rights advocate, Pose star, award-winning author and New York City icon Cecilia Gentili has passed away at age 52.
On February 6, Gentili’s death was announced on her official Instagram account. “Our beloved Cecilia Gentili passed away this morning to continue watching over us in spirit,” the caption read. “Please be gentle with each other and love one another with ferocity.”
Gentili was born in Argentina in 1972, coming out as trans in 1984—a time when gender nonconforming dress was illegal. She emigrated to New York City in 2003, sustaining herself largely through sex work, and successfully applied for asylum in 2012.
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From there, Gentili became the trans health program coordinator at the Apicha Community Health Center in New York City. In 2016, she became the director of policy at GMHC (the former Gay Men’s Health Crisis).
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As an advocate, she pushed for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the decriminalization of sex work in New York and repeal of the “walking while trans” law (which outlawed loitering for trans folks). She tirelessly fought for the destigmatization of trans people of color, sex workers and the incarcerated, founding DecrimNY and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the first free clinic dedicated for sex workers on the East Coast.
Pose viewers will remember Gentili for her role as Miss Orlando. She also wrote and performed the autobiographical one-woman show The Knife Cuts Both Ways and the off-Broadway show Red Ink, based on her 2022 Stonewall Award winning memoir Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist.
Politicians, actors and community members came together online to honor Gentili’s trailblazing legacy.
“Utterly heartbroken,” AOC commented on the Instagram post. “Our community will never be the same without you, Cecilia. Thank you for giving us so much, relentlessly, every single day. You transformed so many lives and shined a light across Jackson Heights, Corona, and beyond. Que en paz descanse.”
“I’m so glad I saw [a video] of her recent bday party and she was surrounded by so much love and community,” Pose star Angelica Ross wrote. “Such a fierce advocate. Rest in Power.”
“I say this to trans people, trans women of color, and to trans women of color who are undocumented or sex workers or both, people like me,” GLAAD quoted Gentili in an Instagram tribute. “Do what you can to achieve whatever level of empowerment you can get, but also be safe…
“I’ll probably never call myself radical, especially in two countries with such high rates of trans femicide and histories of coups. I’m okay with it. I never want to judge my work by how ‘radical’ I am. But I do judge it on what I’m doing for my people and for myself.”
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