This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity.
For a decade, Cecilia Gentili has been an ongoing collaborator and community partner with AVP. Working at the intersections of sex work, transgender women’s rights, and incarceration issues, Cecilia Gentili has helped shape critical forums with AVP. Cecilia is well known for advocating for safe and equitable access to housing, employment, and public resources for the trans and gender non conforming (TGNC) community.
Reflecting on the last ten years, Cecilia shares how her work has been impacted by AVP’s hotline and community organizing.
How did you first get involved with The Anti-Violence Project (AVP)?
I first learned of The Anti-Violence Project when I was doing an internship at The LGBT Center for their Gender Identity Project in 2010. I had many things to do, like facilitate groups, do outreach, and work on events. One of my first projects there as an intern was to help organize the first Trans Day of Remembrance event for The Center. One of the people that I was encouraged to invite was someone from AVP. That’s how I came to know about AVP, and I went to the website, and I learned, and then I met with the staffer. I learned a lot about AVP and I thought that was an amazing resource for everybody, but specifically, for the trans community.
While I was working at The Center, I used to facilitate groups. In one of those groups, I met LaLa Zanell when she had just started volunteering at AVP. Then she got hired as an organizer in the Community Organizing and Public Advocacy department, and that made me get closer to AVP. It was very important for me to know that AVP was hiring trans people. So that’s how I got more familiar with the work.
What are the ways you’ve engaged AVP throughout the years?
With Lala, we were growing together as leaders in the community. So we were doing a lot of the stuff together, some organizing, some rapid response to quick events, and rallies, and things like that. As the time went by, I collaborated with AVP in this massive trans and gender nonconforming project. In 2015, we coordinated town halls all over New York, in the five boroughs, as a group of trans people, within organizations.
Then, when I began working at GMHC as the Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs, I took a participant from AVP’s Trans and Gender Nonconforming Leadership Academy as an intern from that program, Briana Silberg, who ended up being hired at AVP as an organizer after being my intern at GMHC. The work kind of grew in a fantastic way. I was able to be engaged with the work at AVP in different capacities during the years, and in a more active way as the time went by.
When I was working as a service provider, it was really important for me to have AVP services as part of my linkage to my clients’ care. Working with AVP would always come from a very sad or terrible story because I would be referring clients who were victims of violence.
Then, it would become a more compassionate feeling when my clients would get the services that they needed at AVP, addressing the intimate partner violence, or whatever they were experiencing. Then, when I went to work at GMHC, in a more policy-centered work, I was able to know and be in touch with the amazing work that AVP does in policy. That’s how we started DecrimNY, the sex work coalition. I feel like I’ve been part of many aspects of the work that AVP does. It was always a great experience to have been able to work with them.
What is your most memorable experience with AVP?
I never was in a position to need to seek services from AVP, but I have experienced the work that they do through my clients. I can’t pinpoint specific things, but for example when one of my clients got a legal status after sending them to AVP’s Legal Department. That’s an amazing feeling and a great experience.
I think the most important thing was experiencing change in terms of empowerment of these clients that were victims of intimate partner violence. After sending clients to AVP, you could clearly see how they felt more empowered, in their value, their lives and their well-being in a much more favored way. Just seeing the change, seeing how accessing services that are crafted specifically for people going through violence, it was something that it was so wonderful to see and experience through my clients.