Members of the LGBTQ community are demanding answers after the recent deaths of two Black transgender women.
Tatiana LaBelle, also known as “Tee Tee,” was found in a trash can, beaten to death in the Chatham neighborhood on March 18. Her death was ruled a homicide.
One day later, transgender activist Elise Malary was found dead along the lakefront in Evanston, a week after she was reported missing.
“Elise was a beautiful soul,” said Zahara Bassett, a friend of Malary, and founder and CEO of Life Is Work, a nonprofit supporting transgender and non-binary persons of color on Chicago’s West Side. “Anyone that came in contact with her, (her) soul was something that you would always remember and hold on to forever.”
Malary’s cause of death remains under investigation.
“Still none of it makes sense,” said Bassett, “We still sitting in uncertainty. So it’s hard and difficult for me to talk about something that I just don’t know what happened.”
The deaths of Malary and LaBelle come after at least five Black transgender women were killed in the Chicago area in 2021. Their names are Brianna Hamilton Disaya Monaee Smith, Tiara Banks, Tyianna Alexander and Courtney Eshay Key. All of their cases remain unsolved.
“I have buried over 263 trans people throughout the work that I’ve done and I have become slowly numb to the situation of what’s going on within the society that we service today,” said LaSaia Wade, founder and executive director of Brave Space Alliance, a trans-led organization on the South Side. “It’s not shocking, but as we become more visible, as we become leaders of our own narrative, as we become these high stakeholders within our communities, and as we fight and change the narrative of trans and non-conforming people, this is just the beginning of what we will have to deal with in the upcoming futures.”
The National Black Justice Coalition, a Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, says “the Chicago-area is experiencing an anti-trans violence crisis, one that is only getting worse.”
The organization’s Deputy Executive Director Victoria Kirby York says Illinois should issue a state of emergency.
“In Puerto Rico last year, they noticed that the numbers, similarly to Chicago, were building up in their community, and the governor there decided to do something that I think is needed in the state of Illinois and especially in the Chicago region, not only in the city, but all of the adjacent counties as well, and that is to declare a state of emergency,” said York.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, declared a state of emergency in January of last year for gender-based violence.
“The importance of a state emergency is that resources, dollars, connections in the bringing together of multiple governments, working together with community groups to really make a real meaningful change when it comes to these numbers for prevention,” said York.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot was asked about violence against transgender women during a news conference Thursday on Trans Day of Visibility.
“We all need to do more to make sure that people who are members of the trans community are not vilified, that they’re not ostracized and that they are accepted into our families into our community,” said Lightfoot. “We’ve got to stand tall with our trans brothers and sisters and make sure that they’re getting exactly the kinds of support and acceptance that the rest of the gay and lesbian community has received through hard work, struggle and advocacy.”
Some transgender advocates feel the mayor isn’t doing enough to support them and their community.
“The response is political language. I did not hear anything about how we bringing justice to the unsolved murders of the Black, Brown trans people who are murdered across Illinois in the city of Chicago, and that’s where I am concerned,” said Bassett. “If that’s not part of your plan, if we cannot bring these murders to justice, then you are not helping us.”
Brave Space Alliance held a “Rally for Trans Lives” on Thursday, and gave the city a “F” rating for how it’s handling violence against trans people.
“In the past 20 years, in the historical understanding of Chicago, only one trans murder was solved due to the fact that BSA (Brave Space Alliance) put a foot forward in helping that murder being solved,” said Wade. “It continues to be the same lip service that she continues to give to the LGBT population explicitly within the trans population.”
Nationally, at least seven transgender people have been killed across the country this year, according to The Human Rights Campaign. Last year, 2021, was a record year of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, with 50 fatalities tracked.