Lorena Borjas, a beloved trans activist in New York City, has passed away at 59 years old from complications due to COVID-19.
New York State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz confirmed Borjas’ death on Monday morning, NBC New York reports.
Borjas immigrated from Mexico in 1981, when she was in her early 20s. She became a pioneer in defending the rights of undocumented Latinx trans people, based out of her home in Queens. She helped others escape abusive situations by providing shelter, food, and resources such as legal representation and hormone treatment. She even housed up to 20 people at a time in her studio apartment.
Borjas also served as a determined advocate for trans Latinxs at local LGBTQ+ organizations, including the Transgender Law Center, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and others. Her work was done without a salary and without the support of large organizations.
The struggles of Trans immigrant women in NYC and across the nation are heard because of your tireless commitment to social justice. Even with systemic limitations, you never gave up and fought with so much passion. We will continue make sure to uplift your work and legacy. pic.twitter.com/NFOfxo7sjq
— Jennicet Gutiérrez (@JennicetG) March 30, 2020
Chase Strangio, a trans attorney with the ACLU, remembers meeting Borjas in 2010 when he was a law intern at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “She was just relentless about how we weren’t doing enough and people were getting arrested,” Strangio recalled to NewNowNext. He credits her with launching his career.
“She was the embodiment of systems of love and mutual aid, and she just knew how to take care of people,” Strangio added.
In 1994, Borjas was arrested and lost her permanent residency, even though she was a victim of sex trafficking at the time. In 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo pardoned Borjas because of her activist work in the LGBTQ+ community.
Borjas’ work never stopped. In recent years, she focused on helping sex trafficking victims get legal representation. After the coronavirus pandemic threatened countless trans people’s livelihoods and careers, she set up a mutual aid fund online.
The New York City and LGBTQ+ communities are both heartbroken by Borjas’ death. A vigil was held in her memory on Monday evening. Many expressed not only grief, but also regret about the injustice of this disease. “Lorena should still be with us,” the Transgender Law Center wrote on Twitter. Strangio echoed the sentiment, writing, “We really screwed this all up not protecting and saving our beloved heroes.”
“Please remember her,” he added. “Please fight in her memory.”