Chicago-area transgender activist Elise Malary, who had been missing for several days, has been found dead along the shore of Lake Michigan.
A body pulled from the lake Thursday in Evanston, a Chicago suburb, was identified Saturday as that of Malary, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Her family had reported her missing March 11 after last hearing from her March 9. Her car was found in a parking lot a few days later, and her apartment was unlocked, but nothing was missing.
An autopsy was performed Friday, but the medical examiner’s office has not announced a cause of death. Police said they do not suspect foul play, however.
Malary, 31, is being remembered as a dedicated activist. She had worked in the civil rights bureau of the Illinois attorney general’s office but quit the job March 8, according to local media reports.
“Elise was a valued member of our Civil Rights Bureau who, as a tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community, was passionate about her work,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement Saturday night. “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.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker likewise memorialized Malary, tweeting, “The loss of Elise Malary is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, as well as all of Illinois’ transgender community.”
Malary had also worked with Equality Illinois, the Chicago Therapy Collective, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, recalled her activism to Chicago TV station WBBM. “Everything that she did whether it was standing up for justice or working with others or being a member of our team was mostly about how she could make sure that the people she cared about, that she was in community with, were doing well,” he said.
Iggy Ladden of the Chicago Therapy Collective, a trans-focused group, issued this statement about Malary: “Elise Malary was an incredible person. She was a proud Black Transgender Haitian Woman and a tenacious activist. Elise was both gentle and fierce and people were drawn to her energy, contagious smile, and kindness. Elise was never without a thoughtful comment or gesture — this made her incredibly special as a friend and powerful as an activist — she put people at ease. The loss of Elise is a tremendous loss to Chicago’s transgender and LGBTQ+ communities. Elise was also my dear friend, family, and co-conspirator; I am beyond devastated. Now more than ever we must continue uplifting, protecting, and celebrating Black Trans Women. Elise shone bright light into the world: I hope that we all take in that light and shine it forward.”
A memorial vigil for Malary was held Sunday in Chicago’s heavily LGBTQ+ Andersonville neighborhood. Evanston police are asking that anyone with information about her disappearance or death contact detectives at (847) 866-5040 or text tips to 274637, starting the message with EPDTIP.