The recent death of a prominent Illinois-based LGBTQ activist is renewing fears of violence against Black trans women.
The body of 31-year-old Elise Malary was discovered in Lake Michigan on Thursday of last week. Officials from the Evanston Police Department responded to a report of a woman’s body found on the rocks near Garden Park in the 500 block of Sheridan Square. Malary had been missing since March 9.
Malary’s sister, Fabiana, said the two of them briefly communicated that day via text but she had no clue that it would be the last time they would be in contact.
“She’s never done anything like this before,” she told CBS News. “So that’s why it’s been just so alarming for us.” According to Fabiana, maintenance workers entered Malary’s apartment to find the front and back doors unlocked, but there were no signs of forced entry or items missing from inside her apartment.
A vigil was held for Malary on Sunday night, when attendees urged more protections for trans women — Black trans women, in particular, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“Being who I am, and us being who we are, this is what I fear happening to us,” KJ Whitehead said to attendees in reference to targeted attacks against the transgender community. “I feared this every day since I came out.”
Another attendee said they were “tired and angry of burying our trans sisters. Dulce Quintero asked: “When will it be enough?”
Malary’s disappearance and then death came as a shock to the entire community of Chicago as the young champion had dedicated her life to “lifting up” the LGBTQ community through her advocacy work as a Black trans woman. The shinning star previously worked with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the Chicago Therapy Collective- an Andersonville-based nonprofit that promotes personal, community, and city-wide accountability to alleviate LGBTQ+ health disparities.
Angelica Ross, the founder of Trans Tech Social Enterprises, tweeted in response to Mary’s tragic death, writing, “I am extremely saddened to hear about the violent murder of Elise Malary. She was a brilliant member of our @TransTechSocial community. I met her a few years back at our Summit. Rest in Power #BlackTranslivesMatter.”
Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton offered her condolences, noting how she once met the equality fighter at a meeting where she was championing for “equitable access to health care and safe workspaces for LGBTQ + Illinoisans.”
“Her life mattered,” she continued. “Our brief encounter made me a better leader. Peace and love to all who are mourning. Rest well, Elise.”
Malary was last seen on the 700 Block of Hinman Avenue in Evanston. Her car was later found near Hinman South Boulevard of the Chicago suburb, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Police are still investigating street cameras to see if there was anyone driving the vehicle prior to the incident. There were no immediate reports of foul play.
Iggy Laden, who worked with Malary at the Chicago Therapy Collective, called the activist’s death “a tremendous loss to Chicago’s transgender and LGBTQ+ communities.”
Laden added: “Elise shone bright light into the world: I hope that we all take in that light and shine it forward.”
In a statement on Twitter, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also sent his prayers to Malary’s friends and family as well as the entire transgender community, promising “to make Illinois welcoming and inclusive for everyone.”
Pritzker tweeted: “The loss of Elise Malary is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, as well as all of Illinois’ transgender community.”
The investigation is still ongoing.
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