“Alexis was our hero and it’s a huge wound, an open gaping wound, in our family,” the actress, 58, tells PEOPLE while promoting her new film Born Guilty. “That’s why I started the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation on behalf of us all, so that we could do good things in the world under Alexis’s name.”
The Alexis Project was founded as a partnership between the Alexis Arquette Family Foundation and the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the LAC+USC Medical Center. “Queer youth can find safety at the Alexis Project with specialized medical and mental health staff who understand their needs,” the group’s website explains.
Arquette tells PEOPLE that she and her brother, actor David, visited VIP after Alexis’s death in hopes of making a donation for an art studio. But after meeting with Dr. Astrid Hager, who heads the group at the University of Southern California, the trio decided to start a new project together.
“So now we have a clinic!” Arquette says proudly. “It’s called the Alexis Project and it’s down at the USC Medical Center and it’s helping kids. Half of the homeless kids on the street are still figuring it out, questioning [their sexuality] and they’re often abused and that’s really sad,” she added. “So this is a place for them to get some help and medical [treatment] and therapy. No one should feel ashamed of their sexuality or who they want to love.”
Alexis, one of the first transgender activists in Hollywood, died in September 2016 of complications stemming from HIV, which she had contracted nearly 30 years earlier. Her family, including siblings Patricia, David, Rosanna and Richmond, released a statement at the time.
“Alexis was a brilliant artist and painter, a singer, an entertainer and an actor. She starred in movies like Last Exit to Brooklyn, Pulp Fiction, Jumpin’ at the Boneyard, Of Mice and Men, The Wedding Singer, and The Bride of Chucky,” they said. “Her career was cut short, not by her passing, but by her decision to live her truth and her life as a transgender woman. Despite the fact that there are few parts for trans actors, she refused to play roles that were demeaning or stereotypical. She was a vanguard in the fight for understanding and acceptance for all trans people.”
Outside of working together on The Alexis Project, Arquette said she and her famous siblings aren’t able to spend as much time together as they would like. “Patricia’s been living and working in New York, and we’re really busy. It’s terrible that we’re not spending the time we should like birthdays,” she said.
“We try, but for instance, I was in Germany for Patricia’s last birthday and had to miss the party that David and I had planned for her. When we can be together, like over the holidays, it’s really nice, but everyone’s schedule is just jam packed with project and work and our own families. When we are together it’s nice.”
Arquette, who was one of the first women to speak out against Harvey Weinstein, also opened up about the current state of the #MeToo movement. “It’s women holding hands across the world and igniting people’s stories, because I’ve said from the beginning, the truth sets us all free,” she said.
“It’s amazing watching these men shaking in their boots about bad behavior that might have happened years ago,” she continued, noting that “there are so many good, wonderful conscious men out there – this is not a witch hunt, this just having men be accountable for their behavior.”
She added, “There are too many college campus rapes, there are too many men out there in the world that are continuously abusing and harassing women in the work place, in any workplace, not just Hollywood. And, like the phrase, time is up.”
Arquette also said there is room for forgiveness in certain situations. “I believe in forgiveness, I believe in redemption and I believe there are men who can look at themselves at acknowledge that they’ve participated in some s—– behavior and are willing to change and help other men and boys not participate in this type of behavior anymore. That’s what needs to happen.”
Her new film Born Guilty hits theaters May 11.