Vigil for trans activist found dead in Lake Michigan: ‘Her love shines through’

Friends of Elise Malary gathered for a vigil in Andersonville to honor her and call for better protections for Black trans women.

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People gathered in Andersonville March 20 to honor Elise Malary, a trans activist who was found dead March 19.

Katie Anthony/Sun-Times

Dozens gathered in Andersonville Sunday evening to pay tribute to Elise Malary, a 31-year-old trans activist who was found dead along the Evanston lakefront after being reported missing a week earlier.

“Her love shines through,” said Nat Vikitsreth, a friend of Malary’s. “She is community, she is love embodiment; she always brings people together and lights up the room with her smile. She’s just so fierce.”

A chalk-decorated wall acted as the backdrop for the gathering, with messages about Malary including, “Her voice was soft. Her tongue was sharp. Her love is forever,” and “her heart was bigger than the universe.”

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Friends, co-workers and activists took turns speaking about Malary’s impact on the North Side, especially within the LGBTQ community. She was born and raised in Andersonville and worked with the Chicago Therapy Collective, a group committed to supporting the trans community and addressing social factors impacting mental health in the trans community.

“We don’t know what transpired, we just know our sister is gone,” said Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).

The group marched from Women and Children First bookstore to Chicago Waldorf School, candles in hand, to gather around a fire and write notes to Malary to be set aflame.

Malary’s death reminded the community of the disproportionate impact violence has on trans women, especially Black women.

“Being who I am, and us being who we are, this is what I fear happening to us,” KJ Whitehead, 30, told the crowd. “I feared this every day since I came out.”


KJ Whitehead spoke to the crowd in Andersonville March 20 about Elise Malary’s death and the disproportionate impact of violence on Black trans women.

Katie Anthony/Sun-Times

Dulce Quintero said they came to the vigil in solidarity with the trans community.

“I’m tired and angry of burying our trans sisters,” Quintero said. “When will it be enough?”

Evanston police are asking anyone with information about Malary’s death to contact detectives at (847) 866-5040. Tips can also be texted to 274637, starting the message with EPDTIP.

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