Trans activist Elise Malary honored with honorary street designation in Andersonville

Elise Malary was an activist who had been called a pillar of Chicago’s trans and queer communities.

But her loved ones remember her as a “bubbly” and “caring” woman with a contagious smile who started every conversation with, “hey girl.”

Friday, on what would’ve been Malary’s 34th birthday, a section of Catalpa Avenue near Clark Street got the honorary designation of “Elise Malary Way,” to recognize the trans rights activist who was found dead nearly two years ago.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who sponsored the designation along with Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th), said Malary was the first Black trans woman to be honored in this way.

“We know we live in a city that doesn’t treat [Black trans women] with the dignity and protection everyone deserves,” Vasquez said. “We’re going to continue to fight until that’s the reality we live in.”

Fabi Malary, Elise’s sister, worked with her at the Art Therapy Collective. Standing among family and about 100 others who gathered to witness the unveiling, Fabi Malary recalled her sister’s work on a campaign called Hire Trans Now that helped train employers on creating trans-inclusive workplaces.

“Your presence here is a testament to the love and respect Elise brought out of everyone who knew her,” Fabi Malary said. “Elise was not only my sibling, but was and still is my strength, source of resilience and authenticity.”

The moment was bittersweet for Malary’s loved ones, who mourned her death while celebrating the honor.

“It is majestic that her memory will live on in Chicago history forever,” said Albe Gutierrez, a friend of Elise’s and an art therapist at the Chicago Therapy Collective. “It is some consolation, since she is not with us.”

The unveiling was delayed briefly when the string attached to the sign cover broke. Vasquez ran to grab a ladder, but someone in the crowd beat him to it, borrowing a ladder from a grocery store across the street. Friends joked that Elise would’ve laughed at the mishap.

Vasquez said the area will soon become “Catalpa Plaza,” with space for farmers markets and art installations. He said his office is coming up with more ways to honor Malary as the plaza develops.

“She’s always going to be here with us and this is an important testament to that,” Vasquez said.

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