Tributes pour in for pioneering transgender Latinx activist Lorena Borjas who has died from coronavirus

Lorena Borjas

The pioneering transgender activist Lorena Borjas has tragically passed away from coronavirus early on Monday morning.

Borjas, 60, was known as the mother of the trans Latinx community in Queens. As a survivor of human trafficking, she dedicated the past 30 years of her life to protecting other transgender victims of trafficking, slavery and violence.

A large number women she helped were immigrants who were excluded and stigmatised by their families. Borjas was known for hosting them in her own apartment until they were able to support themselves.

She spent years walking the streets and supporting others to escape abusive situations, providing condoms and food, connecting trans women to services and support, and even set up a weekly HIV testing clinic in her own home.

Despite all her good work in the community, which she did for many years without pay or institutional support, her own citizenship was insecure.

She risked deportation for much of her life, until 2017 when New York governor Andrew Cuomo granted her a rare pardon for the previous crime she committed while being trafficked.

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Borjas greeted the news by reaffirming her commitment to helping trans women in New York.

“With this pardon granted, I will no longer have to go to sleep at night, worrying that I will be deported back to a country that is no longer home,” she said at the time.

“I will be able to live my life without stress and fear of immigration and I will be able to continue doing the work I do and help more vulnerable transgender women.”

Her sudden death has devastated the New York LGBT+ community, who are now paying their respects to the iconic activist.

Lorena Borjas
Lorena Borjas was known as the mother of the trans Latinx community (Facebook/Samy Nemir Olivares)

“Lorena was one of the pioneer transgender advocates in the country, who helped thousand of undocumented people, sex workers, transgender people – and a mother to an entire community,” wrote Samy Nemir Olivares of Lambda Legal.

“ALL this work for decades while speaking only Spanish. She founded the Lorena Borjas Community Fund and took hundreds of transgender people out of jails and detention centres – often with her own money.

“Her legacy will live on in an entire generation that saw her humble and philanthropic work.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that she was “heartbroken” by the news of Borjas’ death.

Heartbroken to share that #LorenaBorjas, a prolific trans organizer & Queens activist, passed away from COVID-19.

Lorena championed mutual aid in the LGBT+ community, and her Community Fund was saving lives of queer people & immigrants impacted by COVID:

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 30, 2020

The lawyer and trans rights activist Chase Strangio honoured Borjas’ “relentless” fight for her community.

Lorena saved more people than almost anyone I have ever known. She was relentless in her fight for her community. I am so sorry we couldn’t protect you from this.

— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) March 30, 2020

The writer Janet Mock echoed his statement, lamenting that “we lost a champion”.

We lost a champion, a hero, someone who fought like hell for her community. Rest in power Lorena Borjas.

— Janet Mock (@janetmock) March 30, 2020