Controversy Erupts Over St. Patrick’s Cathedral Holding Funeral for Renowned Transgender Advocate Cecilia Gentili

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

The recent funeral of esteemed transgender activist Cecilia Gentili at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan has sparked a significant and polarizing debate within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, according to a report by ABC News on Tuesday, February 20. The event, which took place on Thursday, has been met with both acclaim and criticism, causing a rift within New York City’s LGBTQI community and beyond.

Cecilia Gentili, who was born in Argentina and became a prominent advocate for transgender rights, sex workers, and individuals living with HIV, passed away on February 6 at the age of 52. Her life story, marked by her evolution from a former sex worker grappling with addiction to a respected coordinator of transgender health programs and an advocate for health equality and anti-discrimination laws, reflects her deep commitment to social justice.

The decision to hold Gentili’s funeral at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a landmark of American Catholicism and a symbol of architectural and historical significance, has become a focal point of controversy. The event has been criticized by a high-ranking church official, leading to a statement from the Archdiocese of New York denouncing the funeral as a scandal to the church, highlighting tensions between the church’s traditional stances and the values represented by Gentili’s life and work.

Contrary to claims of deception by the church, the family of Cecilia Gentili and the funeral’s organizer, Ceyenne Doroshow, have clarified that the choice of St Patrick’s Cathedral was made due to its iconic status, with no intention of sparking controversy. The cathedral, known for hosting the funerals of notable figures such as US Senator Robert F. Kennedy and baseball icon Babe Ruth, saw what is believed to be its first mass for a transgender individual with Gentili’s funeral.

The service was a poignant affair, attended by over 1,000 mourners, including members of the transgender community, friends, and supporters, who gathered to honor Gentili’s legacy. The funeral was marked by emotional tributes, including a eulogy that playfully dubbed Gentili “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores,” eliciting cheers from attendees. Additionally, actor Billy Porter, known for his role in “Pose,” performed at the service, lauding Gentili as a transformative figure within the LGBTQI community and emphasizing the personal nature of grief and the journey toward grace.

While some members of St Patrick’s Cathedral have lauded the church for its inclusivity in hosting a transgender person’s funeral, conservative factions, including CatholicVote, have vehemently opposed the event. They specifically criticized Billy Porter’s performance as a desecration of the “Our Father” prayer.

In the face of such backlash, Gentili’s family released a statement defending the funeral’s celebration of her life, arguing that it brought “precious life and radical joy” to the cathedral and challenged the church’s perceived hypocrisy and anti-trans sentiment. They contested the notion that the cathedral is a welcoming space for all, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding the funeral.

The debate ignited by Cecilia Gentili’s funeral at St Patrick’s Cathedral underscores the ongoing struggle for acceptance and recognition faced by the LGBTQI community within traditional religious settings. While Gentili’s activism and contributions have been recognized by figures like Governor Kathy Hochul and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the discord at the cathedral serves as a stark reminder of the challenges at the intersection of identity, faith, and societal norms, prompting a broader reflection on inclusion, diversity, and religious tolerance.

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