Lorena Borjas, a longtime, esteemed transgender activist in New York City, died Monday morning of COVID-19. She was 60.
Her death was confirmed by New York State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who called Borjas “a great human being” and her death “a great loss for our community.”
Borjas immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1981, New York’s Telemundo affiliate reports. She became an advocate for the city’s transgender population, especially those who had been victimized by trafficking and other forms of exploitation. She helped others obtain legal representation, hormone treatment, and HIV testing, and she also opened her small Queens apartment to them, housing as many as 20 at a time.
“We were women without families and who had run away from our countries, persecuted for expressing our identity, for being ourselves,” she told El Diario/La Prensa in 2017. “Here in New York, we did not have the life and freedom we had been dreaming about. We also endured violence and abuse here. In those days, it was a real crime to be a transgender immigrant of color. I started out helping Mexican women, and that work gradually extended to all my Latin American sisters. By the time the 1980s came, we were a growing, if ignored, community.”
In 1994, she was arrested for facilitating a fourth-degree misdemeanor. She was found guilty, but she was actually a victim of trafficking at the time. The conviction revoked her legal permanent resident status, which she had received in 1986, and put her at risk of deportation. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo pardoned her in 2017.
In 2012, she founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund to help trans people with legal costs. In recent years she worked as a counselor for the Community Healthcare Network Transgender Families Program in Queens.
Tributes to Borjas have poured in on Twitter.