Courtney Eshay Key, 25, was a loyal and outspoken friend. She loved to make jokes, wear colorful wigs and invite friends to cook for her. In late 2020, she confided to a friend at a party that she was ready to set new goals for her life.
Then, on Christmas 2020, Key was shot and killed in the street around the corner from her mother's house, where she had spent the holiday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Her death was ruled a homicide, but police identified no suspects. Key's friends and family believe the murder may have been a hate crime.
"Nobody ever expected it to happen," Nathaniel Porter, Key's best friend, said. "It was devastating."
Porter said Key loved to spend most of her time with family and friends. She would visit her nieces, nephews and cousins at her mother's house, which was close to where Key lived. Key's family supported her and accepted she was trans, according to a Chicago Sun Times interview with Brave Space Alliance Director LaSaia Wade.
Key also spent a lot of time with her "Kors Family" on the South Side, a group of closely-knit LGBTQ+ friends who called each other family. The Kors family was a "foundation" for Key, Porter said.
"She was the Chicago mother for the Kors Family for a while," Porter said. She was always welcoming and comforting to other group members.
Key was also a giver and extremely loyal, Porter added.Porter recalled Key letting him stay at her place when he was struggling with employment and other issues. Key's apartment was in a convenient location for Porter to travel downtown for interviews.
She was high-energy, bright and spirited. "Any time you came around her, she would just want to laugh and have fun or put a smile on your face," Porter said.
Beverly Ross, a lifelong friend, emphasized Key's sense of humor: "She loved, loved to joke."
Ross knew Key from childhood, since Ross's aunt lived in a neighborhood in the Woodlawn area near Key. "As a child I used to come over and visit my aunt. And Courtney, 'Eshay,' was basically their baby of the Black neighborhood," Ross said.
Those around Key knew she identified as a queer person, Ross said, adding that Key was navigating life as "a young person that was very open about who they are at a young age."
Ross, who was older than Key, said she was honored and happy to be around at the time Key was growing up.
"Courtney was just another teen adult growing up in the city of Chicago, trying to navigate life and what that looks like," Ross said.
One of the last times Ross saw Key was at a friend's birthday party, where Key was helping out. Key told Ross that she was ready to "elevate her life." She wanted to look for a job and start escorting. She wanted to spend more time with Ross's close-knit circle of friends, which was a "different type of environment" than Key was around at the time. She wanted to return to school and pursue gender-affirming surgery.
"We were ready to help her. We were ready to pull her in the right directions," Ross said.
Porter also witnessed Key's desire to set new goals for herself.
"She was progressing. We were still in our building stages in life," Porter said. "She was on a path of growing. She wanted more. She wanted to learn how to do makeup. She just wanted to be an adult. She wanted to learn the ins and outs of the world."
Though Key was close to her friends and family, she was careful around strangers, Porter said. She was aware of the dangers she faced as a trans woman in Chicago, so she didn't hang out with strangers or in random spaces.
"She was a short girl. She doesn't bother anybody. She's always minding her business. She's . . . made sure that she's always been in a safe space," Porter said.
Porter said that to have little to no information about the murder 11 months after it occurred is devastating. "She was my sister as well as a best friend, so for me not to know anything still to this day, it breaks my heart," he said.
When she wasn't with her family or friends, Key would be home, watching movies or singing along to Beyonce, Porter said. Her favorite Beyonce album was "Four." Key also loved soul food, especially baked macaroni and candy yams. She wasn't a great cook, so she loved to invite friends to cook for her.
Key was also "upfront," Porter said. People never had to question where they stood with her, because if Key had a problem, she would address it directly without animosity. She was outspoken about her feelings.
Porter's favorite memory of Key is when he and Key went downtown a few summers ago to enjoy the weather and go shopping.
"She looked very good. She had her hair done, she had her nails done and everything. She had a little makeup on," Porter said.
Key bought shoes from the Gucci store and posed for a picture Porter took near a fountain. The two were in their "true element," Porter said. "Just me and her, enjoying each other's company."
Since Key's death, Porter has spoken to numerous news publications about her life.
"I've tried to represent her in the best way that I could. . . . She was one of the coolest, most loving, most beautiful, most loyal, most energetic, caring [people]just all-around an amazing person," Porter said.
He added, "She was honestly one of my best friends. And I don't think I'll ever meet anybody like her, or ever encounter anybody on this earth like her. Just a true, beautiful person inside and out."
See the Trans Omnibus Project introduction page for links to other stories in this series: