QUEENS, N.Y. - Lorena Borjas was a tireless leader, who spent 25 years fighting for transgender rights, but for many in the community she was more than an activist.
"She was like a mother to me. She was like a mother figure to many many LGBT individuals in Queens, in New York City and in the nation in general. She was like an idol and such an incredible role model that we are all shaken," said Cecilia Gentili, a friend of Borjas.
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Borjas was an advocate for immigrant transgender sex workers and the organizer of one of the first transgender marches in the city.
She died Monday after battling coronavirus for about two weeks. Gentili says she had developed a cough and fever but the 60 year old was hesitant to go to the doctor.
"Sometimes we have a terrible history with healthcare and we are more resistant to go to the doctor you know. So she told me I don't wanna go, I don't want to go. And I took it upon myself and I called 911 and I sent her an ambulance," Gentili said.
Borjas was a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1981 to transition from a man to a woman, but became a sex worker in the process. After several arrests she became an activist for transgender women who survived sex trafficking and other abusive situations.
"She specialized in helping transgender immigrant sex workers who are often the target of hate crimes. Who are often shunned by society and she was their voice so for someone to be that strong and in the forefront and always helping to lift them up and raise money for them," said Jim Burke, an activist.
Borjas received many citations for her work on the state and local level and in 2017 Governor Andrew Cuomo pardoned her citing her years of work and dedication. For City Councilman Daniel Dromm the loss is especially hard. He was among the people who lobbied for the pardon.
"Finally she was able to get that pardon and able to get that citizenship. It's really sad that she struggled her whole life, but was always kind and helpful to others" Dromm said.
After her death, many LGBTQ activists took to social media to expressed their sadness over her passing. Some are also vowing to continue the work she started.