Jae Rice, interim director at Brave Space Alliance. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN — Activists gave the city a failing grade on its record for trans rights during a Transgender Day of Visibility rally Thursday.

The rally was organized by the Black- and trans-led organization Brave Space Alliance, the Chicago Therapy Collective and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL). A few dozen people gathered in Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., carrying transgender flags chanting “F” as organizers read the report card they created.

“It’s hard to celebrate today when I feel so f–king angry,” said Ab Weeks, organizing director at SOUL. “I feel angry at Chicago because it is not a safe city for so many of my trans siblings. This city and the people running it are failing us.”

Ab Weeks, organizing director at SOUL. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Activists prepared a report card on transgender rights for the city. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

The report card addressed the disparities transgender people face when it comes to funding, schools, jails, safety, housing and more.

Stephanie Skora, associate executive director of Brave Space Alliance, slammed the city for not allocating enough funds toward trans-led organizations.

Since Brave Space Alliance was founded five years ago, the city has only given one grant to the organization, Skora said. The grant was awarded in September and Brave Space Alliance still hasn’t received a contract for it.

“This city needs to get it’s s–t together when it can’t even follow through on token gestures,” Skora said. “We have a government that is pretending to be for people that it does not give a s–t about.”

Stephanie Skora, associate executive director of Brave Space Alliance. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Transgender Day of Visibility happens every year on March 31 as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of trans and gender-nonconforming people. But Jae Rice, communications director at Brave Space Alliance, said it was difficult to feel celebratory this year after the recent deaths of two trans women in the Chicago area.

“Trans Day of Visibility is supposed to be a day of celebration, but when two Black trans women are found dead in the Chicagoland area within a matter of a week, there’s nothing to celebrate,” Rice said. “This is not a day of celebration. This is a day of reckoning.”

Tatiana LaBelle, a Black transgender woman, was found beaten to death in a trash can in Chatham on March 19, officials said. A day later, prominent trans advocate Elise Malary was found dead in Lake Michigan in Evanston. Her cause of death has not been released.

The rally also served as a “collective healing space” for people mourning the women’s deaths, Rice said.

Alexis Martinez, a close friend of Malary’s, said the community “lost this beautiful jewel.”

“We gather again to lament our losses [and] cry out for justice. We call for healing, and we feel the tears well up inside of us, grieving,” Martinez said. “Even as we go through the healing process, in the back of our minds is ‘when is the next one gonna fall?'”

Alexis Martinez, a close friend of Elise Malary, a prominent transgender advocate who died last month. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

The mayor’s office did not answer questions about the status of the Brave Space Alliance grant, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed Malary’s and LaBelle’s deaths in a twitter thread posted during the demonstration.

“The recent deaths of Elise Malary and Tatiana “Tee Tee” LaBelle have pricked our consciousness to the continued violence and acts of hatred that trans women —especially Black trans women and trans women of color — face here in our city and across the country,” Lightfoot wrote.

Lightfoot also urged police to work “expediently and transparently to bring justice to Elise, Tee Tee and the many other trans individuals who have fallen victim to hate.”

Lightfoot also addressed Trans Day of Visibility during a press conference earlier in the day, saying the city and country ‘have to do more” for the transgender community.

“When you think about the targeting of the trans community and how trans women in particular have been the focus of violence, we all need to step up and do more,” Lightfoot said. “But it starts with opening up our minds and our hearts to be loving and accepting people when they chose to live their authentic life.”

One person’s sign reads, “Stop taking their and our voices away! Black trans lives matter!” Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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