Soraya Santiago, the first-ever out trans person to run for US office and a ‘heroine in the fight for dignity’, tragically dies aged 73

Lily Wakefield September 23, 2020
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Soraya Santiago

Soraya Santiago starred in the award-winning documentary Mala Mala. (Mala Mala/ Facebook)

Soraya Santiago, a trans activist, queer icon and the first person in Puerto Rico to receive gender confirmation surgery, has passed away at the age of 73.

According to the Associated Press, Santiago had been battling cancer, and died Tuesday (September 22) at her home in the city of Carolina.

She was a trailblazer in a multitude of ways. Not only was she the first known person in Puerto Rico to have had gender confirmation surgery, she was also the first on the island to successfully change her name and sex on her birth certificate, and the first openly trans person to run for office in the US territory.

In 2019, she told United Explanations: “Those were doors I opened, and I hope to keep opening more doors so that the community can keep establishing itself where it should be and not where people want it to be.”

Santiago featured in multiple documentaries, including the award-winning 2014 film Mala Mala, and wrote a book titled Made by Hand: Gender Dysmorphia. 

She graduated with a BA in political science from the University of Puerto Rico last year at the age of 72.

Congratulations Soraya! Today, she graduates with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Puerto Rico!"Para un Imposible, Millones de Posibles." -Soraya

Posted by Mala Mala on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Soraya Santiago remembered as a ‘heroine’ in the fight for trans rights.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest city, paid tribute to Santiago on Twitter, writing: “Soraya, our heroine in the fight for the dignity of our compatriots in the trans community, died after a battle against cancer.

“We love you, we owe you a lot and we will never forget you.

“Rest my dear, but keep giving us strength from there. I will miss you.”

When Santiago was asked if she had a message for young trans people, she added in the United Explanations interview: “Although much progress has been made on all these issues of acceptance, rights and equality, there is still a long way to go.

“The youngest are already doing it, they are already walking that path. The youth of today is more open.

“But it occurs to me to tell them to follow their dreams, not to stop dreaming, that if they believe that this is their reality and the truth of their life, they should run after it and not after what society, wrongly, wants to impose on them.”

More: gender confirmation surgery, Puerto Rico

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