A body found on the shore of Lake Michigan in a suburb of Chicago has been identified as trans rights activist Elise Malary.
Malary was last heard from on 9 March, and on 11 March she was reported as a missing person.
Although she was missing and her apartment had been left unlocked, police initially said there was no indication of foul play.
On Thursday, 17 March, a body was discovered by 19-year-old Tristan Lambach on the lakefront in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois. Policy later confirmed that it was Malary. She was just 31 years old.
Malary was a passionate activist who worked tirelessly for the LGBT+ and BIPOC communities in Chicago.
She was a board member for the Chicago Therapy Collective, which “promotes city-wide accountability and action to alleviate LGBTQIA health disparities” and works to advance “collective health and wellbeing through education, therapy, advocacy and the arts”.
The collective described her as a “key player for the #HireTransNOW initiative”, which combats anti-trans hiring stigma and employment discrimination.
She was also a member of the community advisory group for Equality Illinois, extensively fundraised for various community groups, and worked with the Illinois attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau.
Maria Hadden, alderwoman for Chicago’s 49th ward, announced the news on Twitter: “There’s no easy way to say this – I’m heartbroken to share that Elise is no longer alive and with us.
“She has been identified and now her family, friends and our community begin to process her loss and our grief. Elise Malary will be missed terribly.”
The governor of Illinois described the loss as “heartbreaking”, while the Illinois attorney general’s office released a statement: “Today is a devastating day for the Office of the Attorney General. After hoping for several days that our friend and colleague Elise Malary would be safely reunited with her family, friends and loved ones, we have received confirmation of the unthinkable.
“Elise was a valued member of our Civil Rights Bureau who, as a tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community, was passionate about her work. Her kindness and infectious smile will be missed by those who worked with her.
“The Attorney General’s office has lost a member of our family, and as an office, we are heartbroken.
“I extend my deepest condolences to Elise’s family and friends. May Elise’s memory inspire all of us to live authentically and have humanity toward all.”
Brave Space Alliance, a Black and trans-run LGBT+ centre in Chicago, has created a fund to help cover Malary’s funeral expenses.
In a statement, the alliance said: “Brave Space Alliance is devastated to learn that missing trans liberation leader, and beloved Chicago trans community member Elise Malary was confirmed dead today by the City of Evanston Police Department. Elise was a pillar of our community, a friend and accomplice to many, and a shining example of Black Trans Excellence.
“Elise’s work to advance the interests of trans people in Andersonville with the Chicago Therapy Collective has touched countless lives, and helped make Chicago a better place for trans people to live, work, and thrive.”
The funeral fund, the group said, “will be working with Elise’s family to ensure that she receives a memorial deserving of her dedication to Black Trans Liberation”.