Transgender activist Lorena Borjas honored with Elmhurst street co-naming

Councilman Francisco Moya honors transgender and immigrant rights activist Lorena Borjas on the one-year anniversary of her passing. (Courtesy of Moya’s office)

A towering figure in the trans immigrant community in Queens was memorialized with a street co-naming in Elmhurst Monday evening.

Jackson Heights resident Lorena Borjas, one of the earliest victims of the coronavirus pandemic, was honored on the one-year anniversary of her death at age 59, with a music-filled vigil that took place on the Manuel De Dios Unanue Triangle along the Elmhurst and Jackson Heights border.

“Today we celebrated and memorialized Lorena Borjas in the very neighborhood she worked tirelessly to uplift and support so many,” Councilman Francisco Moya said. “When we walk by this neighborhood, cross this street or pass by this triangle, Lorena Borjas will serve as a reminder of what it means to treat people with respect and dignity, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they do and who they love. Her leadership and activism for the trans immigrant community will have an impact for generations to come.”

Borjas emigrated from Mexico in 1981 and dedicated most of her life to protecting transgender women, survivors of trafficking and those dealing with hate violence. In 1994, Borjas started a mission that protected undocumented sex workers living with HIV/ADS. At the beginning of her activism, she shared her apartment with up to 20 transgender women without families who fled from their home countries because they were being persecuted for expressing their identity and for being themselves.

Borjas was convicted of several charges connected with prostitution, which were eventually vacated in Queens Criminal Court. Her record was expunged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pardoned her in 2017. She became a U.S. citizen in 2019.

Baxter Avenue on 83rd Street is now co-named Lorena Borjas Way near the former parking lot along Roosevelt Avenue that was transformed into a public square and later named for Manuel De Dios Unanue, a Cuban-born journalist who was assassinated in 1992 for his vehement and relentless crusade against the Colombian drug cartels that controlled the streets in the very same neighborhoods that became the so-called epicenter of the epicenter as the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Queens last spring.

“Lorena Borjas was a trans mother to many of us and a champion in our community,” Make the Road New York TGNCIQ Justice Lead Organizer Mateo Guerrero said. “Our communities have continued and will continue to honor her fight and her teachings by ensuring that her name is displayed on Roosevelt Avenue, in the streets where Lorena spent most of her time doing outreach, connecting community members to resources, and holding events to foster the unity and leadership of the transgender, queer and immigrant community in Jackson Heights. Lorena’s tireless fight will forever be remembered as we continue to fight for the protection and liberation of the TGNCIQ+ community. We thank Council member Moya for bringing forward this community proposal and making it a reality.”