The front sidewalk of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center was adorned with dozens of candles the evening of Sunday, June 12, as members of the LGBTQ+ community group Evanston Pride hosted a vigil remembering LGBTQ+ individuals who have died.
The vigil was dedicated to transgender individuals who have fallen victim to violence, especially transgender women of color. Jackson Adams of Evanston Pride said at least 15 transgender people were lost in the U.S. so far this year.
Adams characterized the event as a “moment to pause” during the many celebrations that take place during Pride month.
The vigil also focused on the life of Evanstonian Elise Malary, with whom Adams was close. Malary was found dead in Lake Michigan last March. Authorities have not yet announced the cause of death but have said there was no evidence of foul play.
“She was a terrific person and many of us knew her well,” Adams recalled.
“Elise was a close family friend and [her death] affected me deeply,” added Alexis Martinez, a Chicago-based activist who was a colleague of Malary’s at Chicago Therapy Collective in Andersonville.
Another colleague of Malary’s, Hereaclitus Here Vernon, gave a spoken word performance at the vigil; their presentation employed a gardening metaphor to evoke the need for honoring diversity in various communities.
Agito Abbott of Evanston Pride gave an emotional speech detailing the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We’re losing so many queer lives and it hurts,” Abbott said.
State Senator Laura Fine (D-9th) and state Representatives Robin Gabel (D-18th) and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-17th) also spoke. The individuals honored, Fine said, “are not statistics. … They are all lives that have been taken too soon.”
Fine also promised that the LGBTQ+ community was “not invisible” to representatives in Springfield.
But Gong-Gershowitz warned that Illinoisans will likely have to be “on defense” to preserve their rights in the foreseeable future, given the leaking in May of the potential U.S. Supreme Court decision that could ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade.
As with abortion rights, she said, LGBTQ+-based rights usually have a basis in the right to privacy, meaning anti-LGBTQ+ activists likely will be emboldened following a decision overturning Roe.
The LGBTQ+ community and their elected officials have to “shore up protections and fight back … every step of the way,” Gong-Gershowitz said.
Gabel also listed recent state-level legislation that is affirming of the LGBTQ+ community.
The vigil ended with participants being invited by the Rev. Kurt Condra of Unity Church on the North Shore to each take a rose from a vase sitting at the foot of the Civic Center steps and drop the petals at various candles in honor of people they wish to remember.
Condra led a healing circle as the vigil came to a close.
The June 12 vigil was also dedicated to the individuals who died in, as well as the survivors of, the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016.