In Memory of Cecilia Gentili

Cecilia Gentili, a longtime advocate for trans people, immigrants, and sex workers, has passed away at the age of 52. Gentili was the former Director of Policy at the GMHC (formerly Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and the founder of Trans Equity Consulting, which supports the equitable representation of trans women of color, immigrants, sex workers and incarcerated people. Cecilia was a recognizable advocate who boldly participated year after year in AIDSWatch. She gave a notable Capitol Rally speech to over 300 advocates in 2017. She fought tirelessly alongside partner organizations and activists to help end the HIV epidemic. 

Cecilia at AIDSWatch 2017.

An artist and international queer icon, Gentili was born in Argentina and immigrated to the United States when she was 26 years old. She quickly became a major figure in the fight for trans rights. A major voice behind the 2019 Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Law in New York state, she also guided the Lorena Borjas Trans Equity Fund NYC, providing nearly $1.8 million to transgender service organizations. Her accomplishments are too numerous to name. The East Coast opened its first healthcare center for sex workers under her leadership, the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. She tackled every goal fearlessly, following her moral guidance. Such things included suing the Trump administration for removing the non-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act or calling out The New York Times’ biased coverage of the transgender population.  

Gentili was also fierce creative, as central to her identity as her activism. Truthfully, they were sides of the same coin. She wrote and acted and was preparing for the return of her extraordinary one-woman show Red Ink which was based on Genitli’s 2022 book Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist, which charts her upbringing in Argentina. All these pursuits were designed to serve the broader queer and trans community, whether through representation (such as her role on the television show Pose) or through outright fundraising.  

A post published on her Instagram stated “Our beloved Cecilia Gentili passed away this morning to continue watching over us in spirit,” the post stated. “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.” 

Despite the current attacks on transgender individuals and their rights, we will move forward with inspiration from Cecilia’s example. We will not allow backsliding nor will we allow HIV to spread unabated in any community—she knew how vulnerable minority communities can be to epidemics and how public health is a critical part in the fight for justice. We will always prioritize transgender and immigrant rights, and we will work to shore up Cecilia’s work so that transgender people can safely reap the full bounties and beauties of life. That is what she taught us to do. 

Cecilia on an AIDSWatch panel.