Content Warning: This article contains mentions of LGBTQ+ deaths.
Evanston residents walked slowly among lit candles, scattering the petals of their roses in a quiet, contemplative ceremony commemorating the lives of transgender people who have died over 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 shut up and stop and really honor those who have come before us, the work that has been done before us, but also the work that remains to be done,” the president said. of Evanston Pride, Jackson Adams. “It’s moving. I mean, it’s hard not to shed a tear tonight. It’s just a very nice evening.
State Senator Laura Fine (D-Glenview) and State Representative Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview) opened the event. Fine spoke about the impact lawmakers can have on LGBTQ+ issues. Gabel then named some of the laws and bills supporting LGBTQ+ residents that have recently passed or are currently under consideration in Illinois, including the repeal of the HIV Criminalization Act and the ability for transgender people to run for office without publishing their dead names.
Gong-Gershowitz also addressed the recently leaked Supreme Court draft decision on Roe v. Wade, who suggested the court might overturn the landmark abortion rights case. She said the move could override other historic rights upheld by the Supreme Court, such as the right to same-sex marriage.
“So many hard-won civil rights are in jeopardy. They won’t just trample on reproductive rights,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “Marriage rights and protections against discrimination are also at risk.”
Gong-Gershowitz closed their comments, looking to the future and the need to act defensively against conservative lawmakers and court judges.
“We’re here for you, today and every day, to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “Pride isn’t just about tolerance or acceptance. It’s about celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.
Evanston resident Hereaclitus “Here” Vernon, who described himself as an “average trans senior,” then shared a spoken word poem. They used gardening images to explain how members of the LGBTQ+ community cope with darkness while growing beautifully.
In the poem, they described the unique grief of clinging to a candle instead of a person because that person is gone. They spoke of the loss of Elise Malary, a local transgender activist who was reported missing in March and found dead by the lake about a week later. Malary served as a board member for Chicago Therapy Collective, an Andersonville-based nonprofit that works to address health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community.
“We lost that bud, that tree of hope that was Elise Malary,” Vernon said. “Why can’t we garden better as a community, as a city, as a nation, garden, prosperous, vibrant republic?”
Malary attended the Candle Lighting and Remembrance Ceremony last year and was remembered by many speakers and attendees.
Chicago Therapy Collective Administrator Alexis Martinez, who worked with Malary, recounted memories of Malary and reflected on how little progress has been made over time.
“I am 72 years old. I got out when I was 14,” Martinez said. “Some of the things we talk about are the same things we faced years ago. So when people tell me how much it’s changed, it’s like, “This is the slowest revolution I’ve ever seen.”
Martinez also called on members of the community to “be radical” to honor Malary, who was seen by many as a leader in the Chicago area’s LGBTQ+ community.
Agito Abbott, who designed the logo and posters for Evanston Pride and has been called the “voice of youth” by Adams, shared a few words about the significance of the roses handed out at the event.
Abbott said roses are associated with love and sexuality and that different colored roses have different meanings within the LGBTQ+ community. In a 2016 portrait project, San Francisco-based artist Kristin Cofer used roses as a call against the killing of transgender and non-binary people.
North Shore Unity Minister Kurt Condra then led the scattering of the petals and encouraged participants to share words about “what’s on your mind.”
“People deserve to live based on the fact that they are human, they are alive, they have inherent value because they are alive, and we are losing so many queer lives and it just hurts” , Abbott said. “It’s that deep, twisted pain that I don’t think is going to go away. And that’s something that we all have to continue to hold on to, and that’s the meaning of this ceremony.
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