Remembering Lorena Borjas, Beloved NYC Trans Activist Who Died From COVID-19

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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New York’s LGBTQIA+ community is mourning the loss of 60-year-old Lorena Borjas, a well-recognized activist and social worker of trans experience who for decades advocated for marginalized and oppressed communities in and around Queens. Borjas died on Monday morning after having contracted COVID-19.

Borjas began her work in the mid ‘90s and focused on helping trans women living with HIV/AIDS as well as sex workers. She created an advocacy platform, The Lorena Borjas Community Fund in 2008. Just a few weeks ago, Borjas also launched a fundraiser on behalf of the LGBT Center Intercultural Collective for trans people affected by the pandemic.

“Lorena saved so many lives from state violence, neglect, and abuse, and she fought tirelessly for trans migrants, people living with HIV, and sex workers,” the Transgender Law Center wrote. “She should still be with us.”

Borjas’ worked closely with the Transgender Law Center. In 2018, she was pardoned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who noted her unwavering commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community throughout her years of dedicated service.

Despite her own struggles as a survivor of human trafficking—including being criminalized for it—Borjas, almost immediately upon settling in New York City, generously helped other migrant women by inviting them to stay with her.

“She remembers that she shared a tiny apartment with up to 20 transgender women, all of them sex workers trying to survive in neighborhoods where they were marginalized,” Zaira Cortés wrote in a 2018 story for Voices of NY. 

Brujas crossed the Mexico-U.S. border in 1981 in search of what wasn’t accessible to her back home: a healthy transition under the supervision of a physician. Years prior, she’d lived on the streets of Mexico City.

Borjas spent the rest of her life fighting diligently for trans women, as well as others within the LGBTQIA+ community. While New York was the physical epicenter of her work, Borjas’ labor positively impacted marginalized people throughout the U.S.

There are two short documentaries that convey Borjas’ spirit and her story: “Lucharé como una perra (I will fight like a bitch)” and “Queens Stories: The Story of Lorena Borjas: The Transgender Latina Activist.”

In the former, Borjas proclaims, “Voy a llegar a donde voy a llegar—como una perra.”