Content warning: This article contains mentions of death of LGBTQ+ people.
Evanston residents walked slowly among lit candles, scattering petals from their roses in a quiet, contemplative ceremony commemorating the lives of transgender people who died in the past year.
The ceremony was part of a Sunday evening candle lighting and remembrance ceremony hosted by Evanston Pride at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.
“It’s just a moment for us to get quiet and to stop and really honor those that came before us, the work that’s been done before us, but also the work that still needs to be done,” Evanston Pride President Jackson Adams said. “It’s emotional. I mean, it’s hard not to shed a tear tonight. It’s just a really beautiful evening.”
State Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) and state Reps. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) opened the event. Fine spoke on the impact legislators can have on LGBTQ+ issues. Gabel then named some of the laws and bills supporting LGBTQ+ residents that have recently been passed or are currently under consideration in Illinois, including repeating the HIV criminalization law and allowing transgender people to run for office without publishing their deadnames.
Gong-Gershowitz also addressed the recently leaked Supreme Court draft decision on Roe v. Wade, which suggested the court may overturn the landmark abortion-rights case. She said this decision could overturn other historic rights the Supreme Court has affirmed such as the right to gay marriage.
“So many hard-won civil rights are in jeopardy. They won’t be content with trampling reproductive rights,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “Marriage rights and protections from discrimination are on the chopping block, too.”
Gong-Gershowitz closed their comments, looking toward the future and the need to act defensively against conservative legislators and court justices.
“We’re here for you, today and every day, to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “Pride is about more than just tolerance or acceptance. It’s about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.”
State Sen. Laura Fine and state Reps. Robyn Gabel and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz spoke about legislative efforts to uplift the LGBTQ+ community. (Isabel Funk/Daily Senior Staffer)
Evanston resident Hereaclitus “Here” Vernon, who described themselves as a “trans middle elder” then shared a spoken word poem. They used gardening imagery to address how members of the LGBTQ+ community face darkness yet grow beautifully.
In the poem they described the unique grief of holding on to a candle instead of a person because that person is gone. They spoke about the loss of Elise Malary, a local transgender activist who was reported missing in March and found dead along the lakefront about a week later. Malary served as a board member for Andersonville-based nonprofit Chicago Therapy Collective, an organization that works to address health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community.
“We lost that bud, that reaching, hopeful tree that was Elise Malary,” Vernon said. “Why can’t we garden better as a community, as a city, as a republic of nation, of garden, thriving, vibrant?”
Malary attended the candle-lighting and remembrance ceremony last year and was remembered by many speakers and attendees.
Chicago Therapy Collective Board Member Alexis Martinez, who worked with Malary, recounted memories of Malary and reflected on how little progress has been made over time.
“I’m 72 years old. I came out when I was 14 years old,” Martinez said. “Some of the same things we’re talking about are some of the same stuff that we faced years ago. So when people tell me how much it’s changed, it’s like, ‘This is the slowest-ass revolution I’ve ever seen.’”
Martinez also called on community members to “be radical” to honor Malary, who was viewed by many as a leader in the Chicago area’s LGBTQ+ community.
Agito Abbott, who designed Evanston Pride’s logo and posters and was called the “voice of the youth” by Adams, shared a few words about the meaning of the roses handed out at the event.
Abbott said roses are associated with love and sexuality and different colored roses hold different meanings within the LGBTQ+ community. In a 2016 portrait project, San Francisco-based artist Kristin Cofer used roses as a call against the murder of transgender and non-binary people.
Unity on the North Shore minister Kurt Condra then led the scattering of petals and encouraged attendees to share words about “what’s on your heart.”
“People deserve to live based on the fact that they are human, that they are alive, they have inherent worth because they’re alive, and we’re losing so many queer lives and it just hurts,” Abbott said. “It’s this deep, twisting pain that I don’t think is going to go away. And it’s something we all have to keep holding on to, and that’s the meaning of this ceremony.”
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