Cecilia Gentili, trans activist, actress, and author, has died at 52

Cecilia Gentili transgender activist actress author died obituary
Cecilia Gentili transgender activist actress author died obituary

Cecelia Gentili, a New York City-based transgender activist, actress, and author, died Wednesday at age 52.

Her death was announced on her Instagram page. “Our beloved Cecilia Gentili passed away this morning to continue watching over us in spirit,” the post read. “Please be gentle with each other and love one another with ferocity.”

Gentili was an advocate for the rights of trans people, immigrants, and sex workers. Born in Argentina, she came to the U.S. to live a safer life as a trans woman, according to her biography on the website for Transgender Equity Consulting, which she founded in 2019. The firm provides diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting.

In her first 10 years in the U.S., she was undocumented and engaged in sex work. She also was involved in substance abuse during that time. After winning asylum and going through treatment, she began a career in social services and public policy work, first as an intern at New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center.

She worked for Apicha Community Health Center from 2012 to 2016, developing trans health services. From 2016 to 2019, she was on staff at GMHC, becoming managing director of policy. Her work there included advocating for New York State’s Gender Non-Discrimination Act, which became law in 2019.

She also founded Decrim NY, which works toward the decriminalization, decarceration, and destigmatization of people in the sex trade. She helped develop state legislation to provide relief for survivors of trafficking and to repeal a “loitering” law under which trans people were harassed on suspicion of being sex workers.

She was a cofounder of COIN, which stands for “Cecilia’s Occupational Inclusion Network,” a collaboration with Callen-Lorde Community Health Center to provide free health care to sex workers. She received a Community Health Award from Callen-Lorde in 2019.

Gentili appeared as an actress on Pose, portraying Miss Orlando, and in a solo stage show based on her early life, Red Ink, which was due to be revived in April. She was author of the memoir Faltas: Letters to Everyone in My Hometown Who Isn’t My Rapist; it was published in 2022 and won the Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association in 2023.

Many tributes are coming in. “Cecilia Gentili’s death is such a huge loss,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “She impacted so many, especially those in the trans community in New York City and beyond. 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.”

“OMG … I’m so glad I saw video of her recent bday party and she was surrounded by so much love and community. Such a fierce advocate. Rest in Power,” Pose star Angelica Ross posted on Gentili’s Instagram page. Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, another star of Pose, posted, “Rest in power Cecilia.”

Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote, “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 shared a picture of herself with Gentili on her own Instagram page and commented, “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.”