Chynal Lindsey’s Search for an Authentic Life Was Her North Star

Despite painful losses, she clung to her chosen family to stay focused on the future

AtAt first, Chynal Lindsey was apprehensive about finding her birth family. “What if they don’t like me?” Hilliary Calhoun, a childhood friend, recalls Chynal saying. But anyone who knew Chynal would tell you she made it next to impossible not to like her. Her spirit pulled you into her light.

“Chynal was very adventurous, very fun, very loving,“ says Aamias Patterson, a member of her chosen family. Chynal embodied love because she was loved.

As a toddler, Chynal was adopted by Robert Louis Haslett and Beulah Simmons Haslett, an older couple who lived in the suburb of Chicago Heights, Illinois. The Hasletts doted on Chynal and her older brother, Demetrius. Hilliary remembers they gave Chynal “everything a kid ever wanted.”

In 2011, however, both of her adoptive parents died within months of each other. Just as Chynal — who attended Prairie State College in Chicago Heights to study computers but ultimately left the school — was about to embark on young adulthood, she had to bury her parents. “After Chynal’s parents died, we didn’t really have time to talk about [anything] in the future. She had to figure out how to survive,” Hilliary says.

Chynal Lindsey. Photo via Facebook

Even as she dealt with the loss of her parents, Chynal was never without family. Her chosen LGBTQ family rallied behind her in support. Anthony Golden says he bonded with Chynal after her mother died because Anthony had also lost his grandmother a few years prior. Their matching honey-toned complexions and facial features led the family to call them twins.

A year later, Chynal invited members of her chosen family to live with her at the house on Bunker Street, sharing whatever she had with them — meals, money, space, and love. “None of us had real jobs,” Anthony says. “Some type of way, we always kept the lights on.”

They were all young — between 18 and 20 — and partied and found joy in their fellowship. They formed a tight-knit family that exists to this day. Older family members taught the younger ones about Black gay culture, social norms, and HIV prevention. “She basically raised me with the gay community,” explains Aamias, who considers himself Chynal’s “gay nephew.”

Despite deep misgivings, Chynal still wanted to connect with her biological kin. Hilliary suggested that she contact the adoption agency. Chynal balked at first, then initiated the months-long process with her friends’ encouragement.

Chynal invited members of her chosen family to live with her at the house on Bunker Street, sharing whatever she had with them — meals, money, space, and love.

In 2013, Chynal boarded a plane to Dallas with Hilliary to meet her biological family. Upon arrival, a birth cousin took them to see another cousin, Tamaya Seaphus, to whom Chynal would later become close.

The cousins traded family photos and anecdotes, filling each other in on the family tree. Chynal felt at home, at ease. The visit sparked an idea. Before returning to Chicago Heights, Chynal told Hilliary, “I think I want to move down here,” to get to know her long-lost family.

A few months later, she did.

CChynal’s decision to relocate was abrupt but characteristic of her free spirit and ability to plan on a whim. She had an endearing way of talking herself — and others — into spontaneous ideas. Like the time she forgot her wallet at home before skipping out of high school to go to the mall. She dialed Hilliary with instructions for a wallet heist that involved sneaking into the house past Chynal’s parents and shimmying under the garage door.

“Go through my parents’ room, all the way down the hallway. Go in my room and get the wallet,” Hilliary remembers being told. Mr. Haslett almost caught Hilliary, but she was quick. Hilliary threw the wallet out the window to Chynal, then climbed out. The girls eventually made it to the mall, proving that Chynal made unexpected journeys more interesting than the destination.

By all accounts, however, she was no stranger to putting her best foot forward once she arrived. Chynal spent much of 2014 making herself at home in Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb between Fort Worth and Dallas. She found a job in retail, then nabbed a position at a car dealership after her first gig ended. Things were going well enough for her to get an apartment with Tamaya and buy a car.

Socially, Chynal felt the Dallas LGBTQ community gave her more freedom to be herself fully as a Black Trans woman, though she started living her authentic life before leaving Chicago. She met new friends, like Kimberly Brashear, who admired “the way that she could just brighten up a room.” Kimberly recalls Chynal “was always trying to help somebody out if she could,” just as she did in Chicago Heights.

But according to both Tamaya and Hilliary, by November 2014, Chynal also met someone in Texas who introduced her to crack cocaine. Chynal’s alleged substance abuse set her on a spiral of loss: her job, her car, and her apartment.

“[She] would tell me, ‘Every time I take some steps forward, I take some steps back,’” Tamaya says. She says Chynal desperately wanted to recover from her drug use before meeting her younger brothers and sisters for the first time.

In the final four years of her life, Chynal experienced homelessness and engaged in survival sex work. Tamaya remembers telling her cousin, “When you’re ready to stop, you have somewhere to go. You are not homeless.” Although her loved ones in both Illinois and Texas tried to reach out to help Chynal, sometimes they couldn’t locate her.

“I said, ‘How do I know that this isn’t the last time I’ll see you?’” says Tamaya of their final encounter in April 2019.

She never saw Chynal alive again.

On June 1, 2019, according to Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, Chynal Lindsey’s body was found in White Rock Lake with “obvious signs of homicidal violence.” The Dallas News reported that the Dallas Police Department arrested and charged Ruben Alvarado with murder in Chynal’s death in late June after an investigation. Further details are unknown.

Chynal’s friends recently struggled to commemorate what would have been her 27th birthday on October 30. “We know the [Chynal] that she should have been and wanted to be. It’s just unfortunate what happened to her… It wasn’t supposed to be her,” Aamias says.

More than anything, Chynal’s chosen family will remember her vigorous presence. “Everything my girl did was extravagant,” Hilliary says.

Dara T. Mathis is a parenting writer who is interested in the intersection of parenthood with race and gender. But mostly, she loves a good story.