Elise is dead. We don't yet know how or why. But Elise is dead, and my heart is breaking.
Trans activist Elise Malary was an inspiration for me. She was the driving force behind the legislation I sponsored as a state representative, with then-Sen. Daniel Biss, that banned the so-called "gay panic" defense from our courts.
I was so proud when that bill was signed into law in 2017, and I was honored to work alongside Elise and her colleagues at Equality Illinois to advance more reforms to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in Illinois. As a candidate for Congress, I had hoped to bring her voice to Washington to help pass new protections for trans people in every state.
But Elise is dead.
I started to cry when I saw a recent Andersonville tribute to her, written in chalk on a wall in Chicago a few days ago, after we learned of her untimely death: "Her voice was soft. Her tongue was sharp. Her love is forever. … Her heart was bigger than the universe."
All those words ring so true. But her big heart also was strategic, and she knew how to get things done.
As a trans woman, she knew that the panic defensewhich allowed criminal defendants to blame their victims' sexuality or gender identity for their own violent attacksthreatened her own life and the lives of so many people in her community. It was horrifying that a throwback defense based on hateful stereotypes of trans and gay people could still be used to persuade judges and juries in a court of law. So she organized a movement to end that defense in Illinois.
I can only imagine how infuriated Elise would be to hear these same outdated, baseless tropes being trotted out by the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in their disrespectful questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. If she were here, I know she'd be standing up and speaking out against the ugly words that have disgraced these historic hearings.
But Elise is dead.
While she was with us, Elise did everything she could to make life better, for people like her and for everyone else. She was a constant force for justice and moral righteousness. Now that she is gone, she wouldn't want us to mournshe'd want us to do something.
So I promise that, when I get to Congress, I will fight hard to pass federal legislation to ban the gay panic defense. Sen. Ed Markey already has sponsored a bill that mirrors the Illinois ban; together ( www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/on-international-transgender-day-of-visibility-senator-markey-and-congressman-pappas-to-ban-use-of-gay-and-trans-panic-defense-in-federal-courts ), we can battle the vile anti-trans hate speech that is being used to demean and dehumanize our constituentsand our friends.
Elise deserves more from all of us. So I vow now to fight, in Elise's name, to end the trans/gay panic defense and demand equal justice for every LGBTQ person facing hate, discrimination and abuse, everywhere in our nation.
Former Illinois state Rep. Litesa Wallacewho served three terms in the General Assembly and ran for Lt. Governor with Daniel Biss in the 2018 primaryis a Democratic candidate for Congress in Illinois' 17th District, which includes Rockford, Peoria, Rock Island, Bloomington-Normal and Galesburg.