Cecilia Gentili, a fierce advocate for transgender people and sex workers and a powerful legislative lobbyist — as well as an author and a bawdy, searing performer — died on Feb. 6 at her home in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. She was 52.
Her death was announced by Peter Scotto, her longtime partner. He did not specify the cause.
Ms. Gentili often joked that she had a master’s degree in being an immigrant, a sex worker, a trans woman and an addict. She was an expert because she had lived all of those things.
She was born in Argentina and had been sexually abused since she was a child. As a trans woman in Argentina, she said, the only work she had been able to find was prostitution. She left South America for the United States in 2000, seeking safety and a better life. That did not happen. At least not at first.
Undocumented, homeless and trafficked for prostitution in the U.S., she also had a heroin addiction. After multiple arrests, she found herself in the men’s ward at Rikers Island, where, she said, she was raped and beaten.
Immigration detention was her next billet, but there, as at Rikers, there were no safe facilities for a trans woman, and so the authorities sent her home — to her trafficker — with an ankle bracelet to monitor her whereabouts. An immigration case worker, however, was able to secure a place for her in a rehab facility, and after 17 months there she was clean.
Ms. Gentili’s first stop after rehab was the Center, a community hub for L.G.B.T.Q. people, on West 13th Street in Manhattan, and she liked to tell how her mentors there helped her write a résumé. Sex work had given her multiple marketable skills, she realized. She was terrific on the phone, adept at scheduling, and she excelled at customer service.