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ACLU sent letters rejecting lawsuit threats by anti-LGBTQ group

Awake Illinois has repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts”

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Awake Illinois advert soliciting for new members (Screenshot/YouTube)

CHICAGO – The ACLU of Illinois has authored letters to a homophobic and transphobic group that threatened two residents, who have posted online their opposition to the organization and its anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, with defamation lawsuits.

Maggie Romanovich of Wheaton and Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove received letters from leaders of Awake Illinois in early September suggesting that Awake would file a defamation lawsuit against them if they did not “cease and desist” from such criticism and remove existing online posts. 

The anti-LGBTQ+ far-right extremist group has urged removal of LGBTQ inclusive books and cancellation of drag events in the suburbs. The group and it’s members consistently use harsh and offensive language against others to advance their interests, and now are trying to suppress their critics.

Awake Illinois officials have repeatedly used hostile epithets against those they disagree with, labeling them “groomers,” “hateful,” and “perverts.” Yet in the instance of the letters to Romanovich and Spahn, the ACLU of Illinois says Awake seeks to curb the speech of others. 

The ACLU of Illinois letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn reject the threatened lawsuits as groundless, noting that all of the material cited by Awake Illinois is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“These letters from Awake Illinois are empty threats with zero legal basis,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior supervising attorney at the ACLU of Illinois who signed the letters. “Awake Illinois and its members consistently use harsh and often offensive language directed against others to advance their interests, but now feign injury when our clients express strong feelings against them.”

“If they think these letters will stop our clients or others from speaking out against what they see as a dangerous agenda, they are wrong.” 

Awake Illinois’ letter to Romanovich referred to her letter to the editor printed in the Daily Herald, which criticized a congressional candidate for his connection to Awake Illinois, opining that the group is appalling, extremist, homophobic, racially insensitive and otherwise objectionable.  Such opinions are constitutionally protected and cannot be the basis of a defamation lawsuit, the ACLU of Illinois wrote. 

The action comes shortly after a Member of Congress revealed that he had received a similar “cease and desist” letter from Awake Illinois. In mid-September, the Chicago Tribune reported that Awake Illinois sent the letter to Representative Sean Casten, a vocal critic of the group.  Like Romanovich and Spahn, Casten rejected the group’s threats of a lawsuit. 

“Our Constitution allows groups like Awake Illinois to express their views in the public square like anyone else. But they may not use the courts to suppress the views of others,” Glenberg noted. 

You can read the letters to Awake Illinois on behalf of Romanovich and Spahn here and here.

Illinois

Chicago area bakery after hate crime prohibited from hosting events

Lake in the Hills had created “a victory for hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ voices who attacked the owner and bakery after coverage of the drag brunch”

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UpRising Bakery and Café/Facebook

LAKE IN THE HILLS, Il – “Our hands are being tied and our backs are being forced up against the wall by our landlord and the village of Lake in the Hills,” said Corrina Sac, owner of UpRising Bakery and Café, in an emotional video she shared on Facebook.

Just days after a man was charged with a hate crime for allegedly smashing the establishment’s windows and spray-painting hateful messages on the building, which was targeted over its plans to host a family-friendly drag brunch on 23 July, Sac said the town issued a letter prohibiting UpRising from hosting events in the future. 

“Unfortunately, when the attention waned from all the hate, they shifted gears and started victim blaming me after we were attacked by a known domestic terrorist who committed hate crimes against us just one week ago,” Sac said. 

She said that the letter, which came after a “very threatening meeting,” warned that law enforcement actions will be pursued – up to and including the potential revocation of business and liquor licenses – if Lake in the Hills becomes aware of any entertainment events advertised or hosted by UpRising. 

UpRising Bakery and Café/Facebook

Sac said that despite hosting events “pretty much since the day we opened,” it was during this meeting that she was first informed of the zoning ordinances and told there was concern over the public resources required to protect her business. 

An Illinois police officer told The Los Angeles Blade he suspects conservative officials in Lake in the Hills, frustrated by the controversy over UpRising’s drag brunch, decided to enforce an ordinance that had not been enforced in the past. Should they choose to do so selectively, allowing some businesses to host events but not others, he said the scepter of a lawsuit becomes likelier. 

According to NBC’s Chicago affiliate, the ACLU of Illinois vowed to defend Sac, saying Lake in the Hills had created “a victory for hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ voices who attacked the owner and bakery after coverage of the drag brunch.”

In her video, Sac said UpRising’s events have always been safe and family friendly – ways by which the business can “bridge the gap in our daily sales to make sure we can pay our rent, taxes, and employees.”

UpRising Bakery and Café/Facebook

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) condemned the hate crime in comments to The Los Angeles Blade last week. A spokesperson for Pritzker did not immediately return a request for comment on the village’s subsequent issuance of the letter to UpRising.

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Illinois

Illinois man vandalizing bakery charged with anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime

There had been a family-friendly drag show for all ages scheduled for later on Saturday, but UpRising Bakery & Cafe cancelled the event

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Courtesy of the Lake-in-the-Hills Police Department

LAKE-IN-THE-HILLS, Il. – A 24-year-old Illinois man remains in police custody after he was arrested vandalizing the UpRising Bakery in this Northwestern village in suburban Chicago early Saturday morning.

According to a spokesperson for the Lake-in-the-Hills police,  an Algonquin police sergeant from the adjacent jurisdiction saw the suspect identified as Joseph I. Collins flee from the crime scene on foot and he was arrested by responding officers at around 12:05AM Saturday morning.

Booking photo of suspect, Joseph I. Collins, via Lake-in-the-Hills Police Department

ABC affiliate WLS-TV 7 Chicago reported that the bakery has been the target of anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and threats. There had been a family-friendly drag show for all ages that was scheduled for later on Saturday, but UpRising Bakery and Cafe owner Corinna Sac cancelled the event after the arrest.

Sac told WLS ABC 7 that she received numerous threats when the drag show was first announced.

“One morning I came in and there was a bag of feces outside. There was a letter taped to the door that said pedophiles work here,” Sac said, recounting just some of the hateful incidents of the past few weeks.

“Someone came in, did a perimeter walk around our cafe, commented on how disgusting and dirty it was, and then spit on our case,” she said recounting another incident.

The baker and mother of two was shocked by the hostility toward her and her business in person and online after she posted about a drag show event she planned to host there this weekend.

“To take a really fun time, like a drag show, and then make it more family-friendly to involve everyone and anyone,” she said.

Now, she told WLS that the Lake in the Hills Police became involved, investigating the threats and working closely with Sac amid potential protests from anti-LGBTQ+ groups this weekend.

“The department will be taking a zero-tolerance approach for those individuals who choose to attend with plans to engage in acts of violence or criminal activity,” police said.

“If this is the hill that we die on, I’m gonna die loud and proud because we’ve always fought and said equality for everyone,” Sac said.

When she still planned for the show to go on, Sac said any accusation of targeting children is completely false.

“We were not targeting kids. We were opening it up to families who felt like (the drag show) was OK for their kids,” she said.

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Illinois

Exclusive: Chicago’s Out mayor describes Roe ruling as ‘gut punch’

Lori Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city, the nation’s third largest

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (Photo courtesy of the Lori Lightfoot campaign)

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade was a “gut punch.”

“It wasn’t a surprise,” she told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview. “This had been a 50-year quest for people who don’t want to recognize our rights and want to take us back to 1950s America, when our community was pushed very decidedly into the closet because we didn’t have protections — we certainly didn’t have marriage. That was inconceivable back then.”

“We didn’t have protections on employment, on housing and the basic rights of citizenship that we’ve come to really embrace and expect as Americans,” added Lightfoot.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black lesbian woman elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

She noted Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion in the Roe decision said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision in the Obergefell, Lawrence and Griswold cases that guarantee marriage equality and the rights to private, consensual sex and access to contraception respectively.

“Fuck Clarence Thomas,” said Lightfoot on Sunday when she spoke at Chicago Pride.

“I woke up yesterday morning feeling pretty sad for all the reasons that you would expect,” she told the Blade on Monday. “It was still inconceivable that we are now living in an America where all of us who have been empowered to teach and live our own authentic lives are now at risk in this country by the stroke of a pen and a radicalized right-wing majority on the court with seemingly little regard of the consequences.”

Lightfoot said the ruling’s “immediate impact” will be on women in “red states” and “states that have trigger laws” that ban abortion. Lightfoot added women of color and low-income women will be disproportionately impacted.

“You got to play the long game here,” she said. “Clarence Thomas clearly signaled what his intent is, which is when you talk about reconsidering Griswold, that’s the right to contraception access. They talk about reconsidering Lawrence in Texas. We know what that is. Well really, are gay men going to be in a position where they have to worry about cops breaking into their bedroom and try to haul them off to jail by engaging in a natural act of intimacy between consenting adults?”

“We are very much in the target, and the sights of this right-wing mob that feels like the only way that they can exercise their power is by taking ours,” added Lightfoot.

‘We’re going to respect your rights’

Lightfoot in May announced a “Justice for All Pledge” after Politico published a leaked draft of the Roe decision.

Her administration and the Chicago Department of Public Health pledged an additional $500,000 to “support access to reproductive healthcare for Chicagoans and patients seeking safe, legal care from neighboring states that have or ultimately will ban abortion if the Supreme Court decides to strike down Roe v. Wade, as outlined in the leaked decision.” The “Justice for All Pledge,” among other things, reaffirms Chicago will “fight for the rights of all people regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, age, religion, disability, national origin, ancestry, or sexual orientation.”  

“We will fight to ensure that no person will be attacked, assaulted, bullied, or discriminated against because of who they are, the choices they make regarding their bodily autonomy, or who they love,” reads the pledge.

“We have to be a beacon of light and hope across the country and particularly in the Midwest region,” said Lightfoot. 

She also encouraged LGBTQ people from Florida, Texas and other states that have passed homophobic and/or transphobic laws to consider moving to Chicago.

“We’re going to respect your rights,” said Lightfoot. “We’re going to allow you to live in an environment where you can live your true, authentic life without the worry of some radicalized right-wing legislature cutting off your rights. People have to start making choices.”

Lightfoot also challenged corporations to do more to support LGBTQ rights and their LGBTQ employees.

“Corporations have to start making choices,” she said. “All those nice little value statements on a corporate website, if you value your employees and their rights, you cannot be situated in states that are attacking everyone in our community.” 

“When you look at the fact that many of these states are attacking children and their families, that tells you there’s no floor, there’s no floor to which they will sink,” added Lightfoot. “It’s open season on us and we’ve got to respond.”

Mayor lacked role models ‘that looked like me’

Lightfoot lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

She told the Blade that she met a transgender teenager from downstate Illinois during Chicago Pride. Lightfoot said she hugged her and her parents and she “just felt such joy.”

She said she “didn’t see any role models that looked like me” and “didn’t see a lot of gay and lesbian leaders on a national level or even at the local level” when she was younger. Lightfoot told the Blade in response to a question about how she feels about being the first Black lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city that there are now “so many more of us who are living our authentic lives.”

“One of the greatest gifts that we can give is to say to those young people, you’re going to be great,” she said. “Be who you are, embrace, embrace your authentic life. Because there’s always going to be a home for you. There’s going to be a village, a community that’s going to be supportive. That’s one of the things I think the most powerful statement that I can make as mayor, using my platform as mayor of the third largest city, to say to our young people, you’re always going to have a home here.”

Lightfoot earlier this month announced she is running for re-election in 2023.

Crime and the response to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 are among the issues over which Lightfoot has faced criticism.

She referenced efforts to make “real meaningful, permanent progress on public safety that we are doing here in our city against a lot of different headwinds” and economic development in low-income neighborhoods as two of her administration’s accomplishments. Lightfoot said she decided to run for a second term because “the work’s not done.”

“We have been through a lot, as every major city in the country has in these last three years, but we’ve persevered and continued to do really good work on behalf of the people and made a lot of progress,” she said. 

“I liken it to being a gardener,” added Lightfoot. “You till the soil, you plant the seeds, you want to be around to reap the harvest. And I want to make sure that the work that we put in place, that those roots are deep and strong and they continue to bear fruit for years and years to come, long after I fade from the scene.” 

Lesbian super PAC again endorses Lightfoot

LPAC endorsed Lightfoot’s initial mayoral campaign. The super PAC that supports lesbian candidates has once again backed her. 

“I am just grateful that they are ready to re-up for round two,” said Lightfoot.

“When we are present in those corridors of power, we bring a life of experience that is different than traditionally the straight white men that have populated these corridors of power,” she added. “We show up and we show up importantly for our community and that is critically important.”

LPAC Executive Director Lisa Turner in a statement to the Blade praised Lightfoot.

“When I think of the Black LGBTQ leaders serving in office like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I am filled with pride about the work LPAC has done to uplift women and support their campaigns,” said Turner. “We were the first national organization and LGBTQ organization to endorse Mayor Lightfoot in 2019, and we are proud to be the first again as she seeks re-election. LPAC’s unwavering support shows our commitment to not solely electing more LGBTQ women to office, but to elect LGBTQ women who represent the full diversity of our community.”

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Illinois

Chicago mayor exercises her 1A at Pride, vid-clip viral in right-wing spaces

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor

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Photo Credit: Twitter/Mayor Lightfoot

CHICAGO – Speaking to attendees at the Windy City’s Pride festivities this past weekend, Out Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spotted a man wearing a pink tank-top that read, “Fuck Clarence Thomas” and incorporated the phrase into her remarks on stage.

Gregory Pratt, the Chicago Tribune reporter whose beat includes covering Mayor Lori Lightfoot and City Hall tweeted a video of the mayor which according to Pratt has now gone viral in right-wing spaces.

In another tweet Pratt clarified the incident:

Mayor Lightfoot on Monday afternoon after the Tribune article and Pratt’s tweet were active posted her take on Twitter:

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Illinois

Aurora Pride Parade will be held Sunday after city reverses its decision

The action followed a court hearing earlier Thursday when a judge upheld the city’s initial decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit

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Screenshot/YouTube WMAQ-TV NBC 5 Chicago

AURORA, Ill. – The 2022 Aurora Pride Parade in the City of Aurora, Illinois which looked as though it was scrapped after the City revoked the permit issued for the event, got an unexpected reprieve Thursday when the City reversed its permit revocation.

That action followed a court hearing earlier Thursday when a judge upheld the city’s initial decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit based on manpower shortages and not enough police officers to man the event as required.

Parade organizers represented by the ACLU of Illinois had announced their intent to file an emergency appear with the U.S. District Court to overturn the judge’s ruling.

In a surprise move the City reversed itself saying in a statement saying; “Even after an independent hearing officer upheld the City’s decision to revoke the Pride Parade permit based on manpower shortages, we continued our good faith efforts with the Aurora Police Department to secure the additional officers needed for the 2022 Aurora Pride Parade. The City didn’t just double down on our efforts; we tripled down by offering an unprecedented triple-time financial incentive to our officers, and the required number of police officers to secure the parade has been successfully attained.”

“Consequently, a rescission of permit revocation has been submitted to Aurora Pride, and the Aurora Pride Parade can proceed as planned for Sunday, June 12,” the city’s statement said.

A couple hours later, organizers announced on Twitter the permit had been reinstated.

The decision to revoke the permit had come after an uproar last month when Aurora Pride announced they would not allow police officers to march in the parade in full uniform or bring police vehicles which sparked serious controversy in this fairly liberal suburban Chicago city of 200,000 situated next to the conservative right-leaning city of Naperville, Ill.

Original story here.

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Illinois

Illinois city revokes Pride parade permit

“We’re not giving up. Our position has been misrepresented, and we’re making every effort to keep the parade as scheduled”

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Screenshot/YouTube Chicago's ABC News affiliate WLS ABC 7

AURORA, Ill. – The 2022 Aurora Pride Parade in the City of Aurora, Illinois has been scrapped after the City revoked the permit issued for the event claiming Aurora Pride organizers failed to retain the number of law enforcement officers for the parade. 

The decision to revoke the permit comes after an uproar last month when Aurora Pride announced they would not allow police officers to march in the parade in full uniform or bring police vehicles which sparked serious controversy in this fairly liberal suburban Chicago city of 200,000 situated next to the conservative right-leaning city of Naperville, Ill.

Since Pride is considered a private event versus being municipally backed, the city said officers have to volunteer their time to work security, and that required number fell short.

In a written statement issued Wednesday, June 8, Aurora Pride wrote: “We have not been able to close the gap, despite the tireless efforts of our Safety team lead and many supporters offering their assistance. As a result, our permit is now revoked. However, we’re not giving up. Our position has been misrepresented, and we’re making every effort to keep the parade as scheduled.”

Chicago’s ABC News affiliate WLS, ABC 7 reported that some restaurant and shop owners in downtown Aurora are planning to increase their staffing for the pride parade. But now they’re playing it by ear as organizers scramble to find a way to keep the parade as scheduled.

Tecalitlan Restaurant’s owner Marissa Valencia is a supporter of the LGBTQ community. The restaurant is decorated in honor of Pride Month.

“Just so they know that we support them and we are here from them,” Valencia said.

She said parade spectators usually stop in to grab food.

“We have extra help because it gets a little crazy for orders to go,” Valencia said. “So we try to bring somebody else to help us take orders to go.”

Aurora Pride is appealing the city’s decision. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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Illinois

Illinois Governor & others mourn loss of Black Trans activist Elise Malary

“A tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community passionate about her work- her kindness & infectious smile will be missed”

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Elise Malary (Facebook/Chicago Therapy Collective)

SPRINGFIELD – In a tweet Saturday evening after Evanston Police announced that the body of a woman recovered from Lake Michigan was the missing Black Trans activist Elise Malary, Illinois Governor Jay Robert “J. B.” Pritzker expressed his condolences to her family and friends.

“The loss of Elise Malary is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, as well as all of Illinois’ transgender community. You deserve to feel safe in your home, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make Illinois welcoming and inclusive for everyone,” the Governor said.

Malary had been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact. She was later reported missing on March 11.  Evanston police confirmed Saturday the body pulled from Lake Michigan on Thursday has been identified as the missing 31-year-old prominent LGBTQ+ activist.

A board member of the Chicago Therapy Collective, she worked tirelessly for the Chicago area LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.   Malary was also a member of the community advisory group for Equality Illinois, extensively fundraised for various community groups, and worked with the Illinois attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau.

The office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a statement:

“Today is a devastating day for the Office of the Attorney General. After hoping for several days that our friend and colleague Elise Malary would be safely reunited with her family, friends and loved ones, we have received confirmation of the unthinkable.

“Elise was a valued member of our Civil Rights Bureau who, as a tireless advocate for the LGBTQ community, was passionate about her work. 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.

“I extend my deepest condolences to Elise’s family and friends. May Elise’s memory inspire all of us to live authentically and have humanity toward all.”

The state’s Lt. Governor, Juliana Stratton, also expressed her condolences saying; “I met Elise Malary at a meeting doing what she did so well: advocating for equitable access to healthcare and safe work spaces for LGBTQ+ Illinoisans. Her life mattered. And our brief encounter made me a better leader. Peace and love to all who are mourning. Rest well, Elise.”

Malary had a serious political impact especially for her fellow Trans community members. Lyricist, Writer, Humanist and President of Chicago LGBTQ Workers Center, Angelina Nordstrom expressed her grief writing;

“I’ll make this short. Our beloved friend, advocate, & sister Elise is no longer with us. My heart is shattered. While many of you have lost an advocate & a role model, I lost my best friend & my sister in community. Until we meet again, babygirl . . . RIP Elise Lydia.”

Brave Space Alliance, a Black and trans-run Chicago-based center has created a fund to help cover her funeral expenses.

In a statement, the alliance said: “Brave Space Alliance is devastated to learn that missing trans liberation leader, and beloved Chicago trans community member Elise Malary was confirmed dead today by the City of Evanston Police Department. Elise was a pillar of our community, a friend and accomplice to many, and a shining example of Black Trans Excellence.

“Elise’s work to advance the interests of trans people in Andersonville with the Chicago Therapy Collective has touched countless lives, and helped make Chicago a better place for trans people to live, work, and thrive.”

The funeral fund, the group said, “will be working with Elise’s family to ensure that she receives a memorial deserving of her dedication to Black Trans Liberation.”

The City of Evanston Police Department declined comment noting there is an investigation ongoing into Malary’s death.

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Illinois

Missing Black Trans activist’s body recovered from Lake Michigan

Malary has been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact

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LGBTQ+ activist Elise Malary (Screenshot via WBBM/CBS 2)

EVANSTON, Il. – Evanston police confirmed Saturday the body pulled from Lake Michigan on Thursday has been identified as the missing 31-year-old prominent LGBTQ+ activist Elise Malary.

WBBM/CBS 2 News Chicago reported that Thursday at around 4:30 p.m. Evanston Police and Fire Departments responded to Garden Park in the 500 block of Sheridan Square for a report of a woman found by the rocks.  

Malary, a Black Trans woman, has been missing since March 9 after she sent a text to her sister Fabiana around 9 a.m. – her last known contact. She was later reported missing on March 11.

“She’s never done anything like this before,” said Fabiana. “So that’s why it’s been just so alarming for us.” She told CBS2 that when maintenance workers went to Elise’s apartment, they found the front and back doors unlocked, but there were no signs of anything missing. 

Elise’s blue 2008 Honda Accord was missing but was found late Tuesday two blocks from her residence. Police were checking nearby cameras to see who drove Elise Malary’s car to the parking lot. Her family received word that her vehicle was left there.

Elise Malary is described as an “advocate” who has dedicated her life to “lifting up” the local LGBTQ+ community as a Black trans woman.

The Evanston Police Department is investigating.

Body pulled from Lake Michigan identified as missing Evanston activist Elise Malary:

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Illinois

Illinois LGBTQ+ community rallies after brutal hate crime

“It’s very strange for something like this to happen in Decatur now”

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Ethan Dickerson booking photo via CBS News affiliate WCIA 3

DECATUR, Il. – A rally by dozens of members of Decatur’s LGBTQ+ community took place Sunday in the wake of a brutal and vicious attack that sent an Out 60-year-old man to hospital last week.

Decatur Police announced last Thursday that they had taken 19-year-old Ethan Dickerson into custody charging him with attempted first-degree murder, home invasion, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery. Dickerson broke into a 60-year-old neighbor’s house, tying him up and beating him with a pipe wrench because he is gay.

CBS News affiliate WCIA 3 reported that the victim was taken to an area hospital where he received multiple stitches. Dickerson appeared in court Friday morning for a bond hearing. His bond was set at $1 million.

The rally on Sunday was organized to show support for the victim. According to WCIA, event organizer August Francis said, “It’s very strange for something like this to happen in Decatur now.”

“It’s something that was a lot more prevalent and a lot more of an issue, obviously, back when, you know, this was more prevalent,” Francis added, “but now, this is the first we’ve in a very long time.”

*********************

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Illinois

Queer Asian-American killed in Chicago’s Palmer Square neighborhood

“Suraj Mahadeva was a victim of gun violence and had his whole life ahead of him and we are heartbroken that his life was cut short”

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Chicago Police cruiser (Screenshot via NBC News)

CHICAGO – Chicago Police Department investigators are still seeking answers in the murder of a 26-year-old queer Asian-American man in the city’s Palmer Square neighborhood. Suraj Mahadeva was standing on the porch of a friend’s home near the intersection of Albany and Dickens avenues when he was shot in the head. Mahadeva later died at hospital.

A close friend, J. Saxon-Maldonado, had heard the gunfire this past Saturday night and who found his friend mortally wounded told CBS 2 WBBM News reporter Charlie De Mar at a memorial service for Mahadeva;

“If they’re watching, I want them to know that we will find you – and we will get justice,” Saxon-Maldonado said.

Saxon-Maldonado said part of him believes Mahadeva was the victim of a random crime — but he also thinks Mahadeva could have been targeted given the brutal nature of the shooting.

“The other the part of me feels like it doesn’t feel random because of the execution-style murder,” said Saxon-Maldonado “The question is who and why, and I am hopeful that we will find that answer so that the family could have some peace.”

Suraj Mahadeva
Photo courtesy of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago

The Center on Halsted, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer community center in Chicago held the memorial service for Mahadeva Thursday evening. According to CBS2, Mahadeva – whose first name means rising sun – was passionate about his Sri Lankan and Filipino heritage and was a beloved member of the community who was a strong LGBTQ advocate and volunteered as a swim instructor.

“Suraj was a beautiful, brilliant person – always charismatic, effervescent, happy,” said Saxon-Maldonado. “I want tonight to be solemn, but also joyful – because that’s what he would have wanted,” Saxon-Maldonado added.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago released a statement Wednesday prior to the memorial service;

We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of another member of the Asian American community, Suraj Mahadeva, who was a victim of gun violence in Palmer Square over the weekend. Suraj had his whole life ahead of him and we are heartbroken that his life was cut short. Suraj was an active member of queer, Filipinx, and South Asian communities across Chicago and the Midwest. He fought for racial and gender justice, including joining Advancing Justice | Chicago and other allies in direct actions for our collective liberation over the past 2 years. We are holding his family, friends, and loved ones in our hearts. Advancing Justice | Chicago will continue to work in solidarity with other communities of color toward long-term solutions to end gun violence.”

Family members said that Mahadeva worked as a medical clinician for a local doctor’s office.

“I’m going to miss his smile and hugs,” said family member named Jen. “I just hope Suraj rests in peace.”

 A GoFundMe has been started, and Mahadeva’s family is expected to have a memorial in the coming days in the Detroit area where he is originally from and the family still resides.

Chicago Police say that no arrests have been made and that the investigation is continuing.

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