Things That Matter

A Transgender Activist Leader Has Passed Away From Covid-19 And Her Community Mourns A Great Loss

New York City has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic and it has claimed a long list of victims. But one of the most high-profile losses has come this week as the city’s LGBTQ community mourns a major loss.

A pillar of New York City’s Latinx LGBTQ community, Borjas had long been known as a staunch defender of the rights of trans people, Latinx people, undocumented people and sex workers.

And now her beloved NYC LGBTQ community is mourning a huge loss during an already unprecedented crisis.

Beloved NYC transgender advocate Lorena Borjas has died after contracting Covid-19.

Borjas died on Monday, at Coney Island Hospital, in Brooklyn, of complications from Covid-19. Just a few weeks ago, Borjas set up a fund for trans-people who had lost their jobs to COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus.

She left an orphaned community of transgender women, especially Latina immigrant women in Queens, and countless LGBTQ-rights activists who looked to her for guidance, inspiration, and love.

“Lorena Borjas was a real hero for trans people, especially in Queens. She was a leader, a builder and a healer,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “The NCTE family is saddened by her passing and has her broad family and the Queens Latinx community in our hearts today.”

Activists and community leaders across New York City took to social media after the news of her death broke.

Adding an additional level of heartbreak, her memorial was hosted on digital meeting platform Zoom – a departure from her normal community building. More than 200 people attended the online memorial to share in her legacy of community-building, and joined together to take close, personal care of people across the community.

Originally from Mexico, Borjas has been called the mother of the transgender Latinx community in New York.

Credit: @NYCSpeakerCoJo / Twitter

At seventeen, she ran away to Mexico City, where she lived in the streets. At twenty, she crossed the border into the United States, where she hoped she would be able to receive hormone treatments. She made her way to New York City, where she studied for her GED and then studied accounting.

Lorena fought tirelessly for the rights and well-being of LGBTQ people, immigrant communities and sex workers. Lorena Borjas started a mutual aid fund for members of the transgender community who were suffering financial hardship during the coronavirus crisis.

Borjas had been a prominent community organizer and health educator for decades, working to end human trafficking, which she herself survived, according to the Transgender Law Center. In 2017, she received a rare pardon from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for a conviction she received in the 1990s while being trafficked, with Gov. Cuomo praising her advocacy work in New York state. (The conviction had put Borjas, a Mexican national, at high risk of deportation.)

An outpouring of grief came from all directions.

Credit: Cristina Herrera / Facebook

Her loss has inspired tributes from countless activists and leaders, including Rep.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and blogger Monica Roberts. “Lorena spent her life tirelessly fighting and supporting our trans sisters, making sure they were treated with dignity and respect they deserve,” Make the Road New York, an organization that fights for immigrant and working class communities, said in a statement. “We will truly miss her. May she rest in power and love.”

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Racists Threatened To Call ICE On This Mexican Restaurant After They Kept Their Mask Rule

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Racists Threatened To Call ICE On This Mexican Restaurant After They Kept Their Mask Rule

Felix Aguilar / Getty Images

Several states across the country (mostly governed by Republican leaders) have decided to repeal their mask mandates despite their own health officials urging against such moves.

Yes, the vaccine roll out has improved under the Biden administration – with nearly 2 million people getting vaccinated each day – but that is still not enough for the United States to reach herd immunity over night.

Now, thanks to these irresponsible moves by Republican governors, Americans are left to fend for themselves against anti-makers. In fact, a Mexican restaurant in Texas that decided to keep its mask mandate for diners is now facing racist attacks with people threatening to call ICE on its workers.

Texas Mexican restaurant is facing a backlash for sticking to its mask rules.

Houston’s Picos Restaurant, a small family-owned Mexican restaurant, is facing racist threatening comments after deciding to prioritize public health amid an ongoing pandemic. Several people sent hateful messages through social media and called the restaurant, threatening to report staffers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It was just horrific,” co-owner Monica Richards told the Washington Post. “People don’t understand unless you’re in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went through during covid. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn’t continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us.”

Picos decided to maintain their mask mandate as the governor lifted the state-wide one.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) rescind the statewide mask mandate despite the fact that a vast majority of his state’s residents remain vulnerable to COVID-19. The governor has ignored the advice of his own public health officials who say the state should wait on lifting these mandates until their is a greater incidence of vaccination in communities.

With Abbotts order, Texas will become the largest state in the nation to no longer require masks, which has not come easily for many businesses that are navigating enforcement mask rules to protect employees and customers while facing backlash.

Experts agree that masks are among the most effective way to curb the spread of COVID-19, but they’ve also become a partisan symbol. Masks have become so symbolic that one conservative group is set to hold a mask burning party the day the order is lifted, according to the Washington Post.

Picos hasn’t been the only restaurant facing such a backlash.

In fact, another Mexican restaurant in Houston, Cantina Bar, has been the victim of similar threatening messages, while several staff have been intimidated by screaming customers who refuse to wear masks even while it was required by a state order. Another Houston Mexican restaurant, Cantina Barba, received similar intimidating messages, and staff have been bullied by some screaming customers who refused to wear masks while it was required statewide, co-owner Steven O’Sullivan said.

“This has been ongoing through covid,” co-owner Steven O’Sullivan told the Post. “We’ve had threats of calling ICE. I had one guy just stand there and berate one of my bartenders and tell her ‘you’re an absolute idiot, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you think these masks are going to save your life, you’re stupid’ blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to deal with that stuff.”

Another employee at a separate restaurant had to get stitches after he was hit in the head with a glass by a maskless customer he approached, Houston Police said. Hopefully, the governor will still encourage his constituents to do what’s right and continue to wear masks when asked to do.

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Americans Are Flocking To Mexico Amid The Pandemic And Being Terrible Tourists In The Process

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Americans Are Flocking To Mexico Amid The Pandemic And Being Terrible Tourists In The Process

ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images

Despite being one of the world’s hardest hit countries by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico never once closed its doors to international tourism. In fact, the country has worked hard to lure travelers from the U.S. as Americans faced increasingly tough restrictions at home. This has had a profound impact on the country’s experience with Covid-19, with so many Mexicans either falling ill themselves or knowing someone who has.

With so many Mexicans having first hand experience with the virus, it makes sense why so many have strong opinions about tourist’s behaviors while visiting the country.

Tourists are still welcomed in Mexico but their bad behavior is not.

Most Mexicans agree with their government’s open borders approach during the pandemic, since the alternative would have meant even worse economic situation for a country already suffering record levels of poverty. But the influx of tourists to the country has brought with it a level of resentment at those who fail to follow local health guidelines while on vacation.

Mexico never closed its airports to tourists and one walk down a block in Mexico City’s popular Condesa or Roma neighborhoods and you’ll spot American tourists within minutes – many failing to wear a mask. The problem is even more severe in popular tourist destinations like Oaxaca.

There, tourists often travel from the bustling city of Oaxaca into remote villages where Indigenous residents have even less access to proper medical care.

Residents fear that tourists feel they are exempt from local Covid-19 guidelines.

Many residents who have had their own personal experience with the coronavirus has made them sensitive to the pandemic situation in their community. As case numbers continued to rise, many noticed more tourists defying widely practiced public-health protocols, like wearing face masks in public.

On Feb. 25, a popular photographer from Oaxaca, Frank Coronado, posted a plea to his 171,000 Instagram followers: “Dear travelers, you are welcome in Oaxaca, but you should ALWAYS wear a mask when you are in public places.”

He wanted to publicly address the issue and encourage visitors to do better — particularly foreigners who travel from Oaxaca City into smaller rural villages, where artisans are even more vulnerable. He told the Washington Post, “I get mad because I already went through [covid-19] and know how bad it feels. I don’t want my people, the people of Oaxaca, to get sick.”

With an economy based on services, many don’t have the freedom to work from home.

Many in Mexico don’t have the luxury of isolating from tourists — such as Aurora Tostado, who owns the downtown coffee shop Marito & Moglie with her husband.

“People in Mexico, we have to get out of our homes to work. It’s not like we can work remotely like most of the people in the U.S.,” Tostado told the Washington Post. Like others in hospitality, Tostado benefits financially from having tourists, and she is happy to welcome them back, she says. She just hopes they will consider the chain reaction of their behavior as they enjoy the culture that makes her city special

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