Photo by Sam Stroozas.

More than 100 people gathered at Women and Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., to host a vigil in remembrance of transgender rights and anti-racism activist Elise Malary.

Malary, a 31-year-old Evanston resident, was reported missing to the Evanston Police Department on March 11. Malary resided at the 700 block of Hinman Avenue and was last in touch with her sister on March 9.

On March 17, Evanston Police and Fire recovered a body from Lake Michigan at the 500 block of Sheridan Square. The body was positively identified as Malary on March 19.

Following the news, activists organized a vigil for Malary at the feminist book store in Andersonville. Malary was one of several activists who rallied around Women and Children First in 2019 when anti-transgender stickers were affixed on the store’s windows.

Alexis Martinez was the emcee for the event and led the gathering by explaining the healing process after Malary’s death.

“All of us have a story about Elise,” Martinez said. “I want people to understand that Elise was special to everyone here. She fell victim to what many transgender individuals, especially women of color, experience. We want to make sure that we remember that and support each other.”

Myles Brady was the first speaker at the vigil and talked about the overwhelming number of deaths of Black trans people across the nation.

“Elise was a vivid representation of Black trans joy, dedication and authenticity,” they said. “It is so hard mourning one of our own as we stand once again reminded that each of us is mortal.”

KJ Whitehead said that as a queer person, Malary’s death is their biggest fear and they hope that she is remembered as more than a hashtag.

“This is what I fear happening to us,” they said. “I have feared this every day since I came out myself. I guess the only thing I can really hope is that we end up being more than a hashtag or a trend and live so much longer. I really hope Elise’s name is continued to be said and remembered way after today.”

Andre Vasquez, Alderman of the 40th Ward of Chicago, helped lead search parties for Malary and advocated for her safe return. He said that although the cause of Malary’s death is not yet known, he hopes there is a full investigation.

“Black Lives Matter isn’t just a window sign,” he told the crowd. “I know that we have plenty of people that love to say it and have it on their window but for me, seeing you all here, that is what matters.”

Iggy Ladden, the main organizer of the vigil and founder of the Chicago Therapy Collective where Malary was a board member, shared that they and Malary would discuss their dreams and nightmares with one another. Ladden then read a prose piece dedicated to Malary.

“Elise worked tirelessly for Black trans lives, including her own,” Ladden said. “She knew intimately that the world and the people in it that she loved needed to change for the better.”

Ang Nordstrom, Malary’s best friend, was the last to speak at the vigil, recounting the story of a keychain which the two shared together. It was a bright pink heart that read “Best Friends,” and Nordstrom had one half, Malary the other.

“There was only one person who could have a keychain like this, and that was her,” they said. “There was a sisterhood she and I were able to cultivate, and I really felt it with all of my heart. All I am left with is this half of my heart,” Nordstrom said, holding up the keychain.

There have been no further updates from the Evanston Police Department regarding Malary’s death.

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at and...

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