Dozens of community members and advocates gathered in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, braving cold temperatures to honor the memory of Evanstonian Elise Malary.

The event, a collaboration between local organizations that included Chicago Therapy Collective, Brave Space Alliance and Life is Work, was one of several area observances of the Trans Day of Remembrance that took place the weekend of Nov. 19-20. 

Elise Malary (Photo via Facebook)

The already somber remembrance was darkened further by the shocking news of the Nov. 19 mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. Once the observances finished, Chicago Therapy Founder and Director Iggy V. Ladden spoke about the need for safe spaces for the LGBTQ community and that their violation was unacceptable.

In the wake of the shooting, Chicagoans “need to lead by example and show the United States what kind of city our cities should look like,” Ladden said.

Yet, the event kept its focus as well. “We absolutely must respond to [Malary’s] call to action now that she is gone,” Ladden added.

In March 2022, Malary, a transgender-rights and anti-racism activist, went missing for about a week before her car was found empty a few blocks away from her Evanston home. Her body was found on an Evanston beach March 17. Authorities know the cause of death to have been drowning, but the circumstances surrounding Malary’s death remain unknown. 

Malary worked as a clerk in the state attorney general’s office and was especially active with Chicago Therapy. Activist Alexis Martinez, a Chicago Therapy board member and assistant trainer called Malary “a jewel who continues to breathe life into this community.”

Martinez reflected on the challenges facing transgender and nonbinary individuals.

“Every day of my life is a revolution,” Martinez said, before pointing back to a shrine honoring Malary and other transgender people lost to violence. Those individuals, Martinez said, were “revolutionaries, warriors [and] fallen heroes.”

Graffiti on a brick wall says “Black Trans Lives Matter.” Credit: Matt Simonette / Evanston RoundTable

Ladden spoke about the campaign Hire Trans Now, in which the nonprofit participates in reducing anti-trans hiring stigma and creating pipelines to trans-affirming jobs. City officials pledged their commitment to the campaign, for which Malary tirelessly worked. 

Activist and Chicago Therapy assistant trainer Angelina Nordstrom – Malary’s best friend – reminded the audience that it was not enough to profess oneself an ally of the trans community. Members of the community, Nordstrom said, need to show up for trans folks and be their “accomplices” in their struggles for safety, equality and equity.

Gesturing to the shrine, she added, “While we are paying tribute to these people here, we are not doing justice to them until we do the work.”

Fighting back tears, Malary’s sister Fabiana described Elise as “the most reliant trans person I know,” adding that Elise’s spirit is “in a better place, smiling down.”

KJ Whitehead speaks at the Trans Day of Remembrance. Credit: Matt Simonette / Evanston RoundTable

KJ Whitehead, an activist and artist, said that transgender folks “deserve the resilience” of the rest of the community. She invoked a quote from Charlie Chaplin’s film The Great Dictator: “More than machinery, we need humanity; more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”

Whitehead added, “No matter who you are here today, I hope you have that kindness and gentleness before you are another hashtag.”

Following the public testimonials, participants walked to Chicago Waldorf School for a bonfire and remembrance ceremony. When the ceremony was done, one attendee noticed that reflections from the setting sun were creating ribbons of orange and purplish blue in the sky, mirroring the color of the transgender community’s flag.  “The sky is trans,” they yelled.        

A transgender rights activist tends a bonfire. Credit: Matt Simonette / Evanston RoundTable

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