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Community honors LGBTQ victims of violence in Chicago, Colorado

Members of the LGBTQ community knew Sunday would be difficult.

November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held to honor transgender people who have died and those who have been killed in acts of anti-transgender violence.

But Sunday morning brought news of five more people who “deserve to be here,” said Iggy Laden, founder and director of the Chicago Therapy Collective, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. Five people died Saturday night in Colorado Springs, Colo., at Club Q, an LGBTQ bar.

“I want to invite everyone in this community who has been affected by the loss of our trans or LGBTQ loved ones — we have a common fight and we need to come together,” Laden said.

Trans organizations held events throughout the city throughout the weekend, including a documentary screening, a panel discussion and a “trans town hall,” leading up to Sunday’s vigil in Andersonville for Chicago activist Elise Mallory, whose manner of death is also unknown as Marthasia Richmond, Tatiana Label and 32 transgender and non-binary people killed in 2022.

Hours and blocks later, another vigil was held for the five killed in Colorado. The message of both events was clear: LGBTQ people are not safe and the community needs support.

Dawn Valenti, a Chicago-based emergency responder, was on duty in 2016 for the 49 people killed in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida. Six years later, Valenti organized this event to bring the community together.

About 30 people with tea lights were present outside Nobody’s Darling, a bar Valenti called a “safe space.”

“We’re here to make sure our family in Colorado Springs knows we’re with them,” Valenti said.

Jim Bennett, director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights, said that while the state provides LGBTQ protections, “we’re not as safe as we deserve to be” because of a surge in anti-LGBTQ legislation and activism.

Heather, second from left, who chose not to be named, holds her transgender baby Noam next to Milargrass Burgas, far right, who lost a child to gun violence, during a vigil outside Nobody's Darling in Chicago on Nov. 20, 2022. The vigil was held at in memory of the people who died in the mass shooting at the Club Q bar in Colorado Springs.

Bennett said he knows the Colorado Springs area well and that it is an “extremely conservative” city.

“They have one bar, it’s the only place they can go where they feel safe and strong, and to have that destroyed is just heartbreaking,” Bennett said.

Chicago Mayor Laurie Lightfoot condemned the shooting on Twitter on Sunday, saying: “How many people do you have to kill? How many lives have been torn apart? Until it really stops? We don’t have to live like this. And we don’t have to die like that.”

During Transgender Day of Remembrance, Laden, who uses the pronoun they, said they still remember the sounds from the videos posted around the time of what happened at Pulse nightclub. They said it took a year to revisit an LGBTQ club without that sound in their head.

“We cannot breach our safe spaces,” Laden said. “This is unacceptable.”

Noam, a 14-year-old student who lives near Nobody’s Darling, said he saw news of the mass shooting Saturday night while browsing social media. Noam, who is transgender, said his first thought was, “Again?”

When he heard about the vigil, he urged his mother, Heather, to go with him. Noam asked that their last names not be used because they have been harassed online before.

Before the last moment of silence, Noam addressed the gathered crowd.

“I’m only 14. I shouldn’t be thinking about these things, but I have to,” Noam said. “Because every time I tell someone I’m gay or trans, I have to weigh the risks and think: Is it safe? Am I in a safe place to tell them?”

Brave Space Alliance, Life Is Work and Chicago Therapy Collective celebrated Transgender Day in a different way this year. Instead of one day, they turned it into a weekend, and instead of a “memorial” they called it “Transgender Day of Resiliency.”

The change is part of a “new era” in the community, which focuses on bringing trans organizations together for common goals.

“This year we had events on the South Side, the West Side and the North Side to represent solidarity across the city,” Laden said.

Jay Rice, interim CEO of Brave Space Alliance, said the organizations came together during the search for Malara and after her funeral. Mallari went missing in March before her body was found in Lake Michigan.

Mallory was a beloved transgender activist in Chicago, and one of the initiatives she championed was Hire Trans Now, which called for encouraging businesses to develop a transgender workplace. Lightfoot and City Council members pledged their support for Hire Trans Now this week, progress that speaks to the strength of Mallary’s legacy, Laden said.

Sunday noted second vigil this year for Malara. A chalk mural behind the speakers at the event read: “Her voice was soft. Her tongue was sharp.”

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Mallari’s sister, Fabiana, said she is proud to call her Mallari’s family. With money from donations to cover Mallory’s funeral expenses, Fabiano said she was able to make a pendant with Elise’s fingerprint.

“Every time I feel like crying, I hold this pendant,” she said.

Speakers also expressed anger at the lack of action by Chicago and its allies. Angelina Nordstrom, Elise Mallory’s best friend, said they feel tired and desperate because their past pleas for the importance of transgender lives have been “unheeded”.

“While I am tired of the lip service of allies, I urge those complicit to come forward and step up,” Nordstrom said. “It shouldn’t be an experience where the trans community is an afterthought day in and day out.”

After the speakers addressed the crowd, Bin Laden observed a moment of silence. The crowd then moved on to a fire ceremony held on the grounds next to the Chicago Waldorf School. Around the fire and little cups of hot chocolate, the crowd quieted down. Above, the setting sun painted the sky blue and pink.

“The sky said ‘right trance,'” someone yelled.



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