The deaths of two Black transgender women in Chicago are making national headlines as activists rally for action and schools highlight safety measures for transgender students.

Just a few days apart, Tatiana Whetstone and Elise Malary’s bodies were found in two separate incidents. Chicago Suntimes reported that Whetstone’s death was ruled a homicide after her body was found beaten to death in an alley trash can in the city’s Chatham neighborhood on March 18. She was reported missing by relatives. Malary, 31, was reported missing on March 11, and her body was later found along the lakefront in Evanston on March 19. She was a member of the Chicago Therapy Collective in Andersonville. The cause of her death has not been announced.

Both deaths brought awareness to violence against the LGBTQ community in the city. Transgender advocates rallied at the Federal Plaza and Daley Center Plaza, voicing their concern, mourning, and calling for action. “It is a reminder that this country does not care about trans Black people. Not when my sisters are getting pulled out of lakes. Not when my sisters are found in the back of trash cans,” Jae Rice, communications director for Brave Space Alliance, told WBEZ. “This is not a day of celebration. This is a day of reckoning.”

In May 2010, 233 transgender people that participated in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey were from Illinois. According to the results, respondents who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades k-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (80%), physical assault (33%), and sexual violence (12%). The harassment was so severe that it led to 10% leaving k-12 school settings or higher education. A little over a decade later, those rates are two times higher. 

So, what are schools doing to ensure a welcoming environment for transgender students? For starters, Columbia College Chicago is among many institutions highlighting their student diversity and inclusion committee. Columbia shows support to transgender students through their Trans-Informed Gender Equity Initiative. The webpage for their committee includes several resources: students being able to go by the name of their choice, a pronoun use guide, how the Colum family should address the community, pronoun tech support, and free clothing, toiletry, and sexual health product service called “The Rack.” 

If you know a transgender person in need of help, call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 or visit their website.

Blavity U Ambassador Lashaunta Moore is a graduate student at Columbia College Chicago, studying entrepreneurship for creatives. Moore has a bachelor’s degree in media communication, and she’s also a freelance journalist and digital content producer.