Funeral for trans icon Cecilia Gentili held in historic AIDS protest site, St Patrick’s Cathedral

Cecilia Gentili

A funeral like no other was held this week at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, with mourners turning up to celebrate the life of trans trailblazer Cecilia Gentili.

Gentili, an author, activist, and actress – best known for her role as Ms Orlando in Posetragically passed away on 6 February, aged 52.

As tributes poured in for Gentili over the last week, it became clear just how large an impact she had had on the LGBTQ+ community as an “unapologetic example of trans joy and power.”

Image shows trans activist Cecilia Gentili at an event, wearing a white dress and holding a microphone
A funeral for trans trailblazer Cecilia Gentili was held at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. (Getty)

It’s no surprise, then, that Gentili’s funeral, held on Thursday (15 February), was a jam-packed, colourful celebration of life, attended by more than a thousand mourners.

What is a surprise, is that the funeral was held in none other than St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York – the same cathedral that had been the site of monumental LGBTQ+ protests.

In 1989, a mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral had been disrupted by members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), who opposed Cardinal John O’Connor’s opposition to teaching safe sex in public schools, as well as the distribution of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.

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While the Catholic Church has shown more acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in recent years, it is unclear whether or not St Patrick’s Cathedral had been aware of Gentili’s gender identity and background before agreeing to hold her funeral this week.

Although there are several LGBTQ+-friendly Catholic parishes within New York City, St Patrick’s Cathedral is not among them.

Speaking to The New York Times, funeral organiser Ceyenne Doroshow said that friends of Gentili had wanted the memorial service to be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral because “it is an icon, just like her,” but admitted she had “kind of kept it under wraps” that Gentili was transgender when she requested that the funeral be held there.

Cecilia Gentili
Gentili, an author, activist, and actress sadly passed away on 6 February, aged 52. (Getty Images)

But she added that she had not mentioned that Ms. Gentili was transgender when planning with the church. “I kind of kept it under wraps,” she said.

The paper reports that, during the funeral service, Rev. Edward Dougherty noted it was the largest crowd he had seen in the cathedral’s pews since Easter Sunday.

Naturally, the funeral has sparked some backlash from more conservative Catholic bodies, but on the whole, mourners, advocates, and church representatives appear to agree that the service was a success.

Jesuit Catholic priest and writer Rev. James Martin, best known for his public outreach to the LGBTQ+ community, told the Times that it was “wonderful” to see the famous New York cathedral had agreed to host Gentili’s funeral.

He said: “To celebrate the funeral Mass of a transgender woman at St. Patrick’s is a powerful reminder, during Lent, that LGBTQ+ people are as much a part of the church as anyone else. I wonder if it would have happened a generation ago.”

While Gentili had been open about her atheism in the past, she told Interview Magazine just last year that she had been “reexamining [her] relationship with religion” and had started attending services again.

“It feels good to go to church,” she had said at the time. “Walking in a space that is considered a temple gives me goosebumps every time. And maybe people don’t know about me, and nobody will have an opportunity to make me feel uncomfortable here. Even if I don’t believe the same things they believe, it’s a magical experience.”

As well as a trailblazing actress, Gentili is remembered as an advocate for marginalised communities and the founder of Trans Equity Consulting.

Her activism saw her contribute to initiatives like the AIDS non-profit GMHC, the transgender-centric music festival Transmissions Fest, and the Black trans fundraising event Fierce Futures.