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O’Shae Sibley’s killing unites New York’s Black LGBTQ community in grief and defiance

<i>courtesy Kemar Jewel</i><br/>Kemar Jewel
courtesy Kemar Jewel
Kemar Jewel

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

(CNN) — O’Shae Sibley’s passion for dance was transcendent. Those closest to him told CNN the 28-year-old had the ability to turn even the most boring locations into a vibrant dance floor.

“O’Shae was always dancing in some way, shape or form, everywhere,” said Kayden Coleman, a transgender advocate who was friends with Sibley.

Friends of Sibley told CNN they weren’t surprised to hear he was dancing to Beyoncé at a Brooklyn gas station, but they were shocked to learn that he was killed while doing it.

On July 29, Sibley was approached by a group of men who allegedly began shouting homophobic slurs. An altercation broke out and Sibley was stabbed in the chest. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A 17-year-old suspect was arrested Saturday and charged with a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon, according to the New York City Police Department.

Family and friends honored Sibley Tuesday during funeral services in his hometown of Philadelphia. They celebrated Sibley’s passion for the arts with dancing and music from one of his favorite artists: Beyoncé.

Otis Pena, who witnessed Sibley’s killing, paid tribute to his best friend by wearing orange, his favorite color. He described Sibley as a “beacon of light for a lot of us in our community that was engulfed with darkness.”

“Just when I thought that the world couldn’t get darker, it went black…,” Pena said. “(O’Shae) encouraged us to stand out and be us.”

As his friends and family grieve and try to process Sibley’s unexpected death, they’ve also vowed to remain resilient in the face of a surge in violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

In 2021, anti-LGBTQ bias accounted for 17.7% of all reported hate crimes in New York, according to a New York Division of Criminal Justice Services report released in December.

In response to the nationwide surge in hate crimes, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the US, in June declared a national state of emergency for the first time in the organization’s history.

Sibley’s death has renewed fears for their safety, several members of New York’s LGTBQ+ community told CNN.

“That could easily (have) been me … it could easily be anyone,” said Kemar Jewel, who had been friends with Sibley for more than a decade and said Sibley nicknamed him “Uncle.”

“I still think I’m in shock,” he said of Sibley’s death. “I’m just trying to keep going.”

Jewel said the fact that his friend was killed while voguing to Beyoncé makes his death even more painful.

Many in the LGBTQ+ community have embraced Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album as a love letter to Black, queer culture.

The megastar’s album features LGBTQ+ celebrities like Big Freedia, TS Madison and transgender DJ and producer Honey Dijon.

After news of his death broke, Beyoncé honored Sibley, posting, “REST IN POWER O’SHAE SIBLEY” on her website Wednesday.

Jewel said he smiled imagining what Sibley’s reaction to the tribute would have been.

“I was laughing to myself,” he said. “He would’ve called me and been like, ‘Oh my God, Uncle, Beyoncé knows my name.”

Sibley’s death has also started conversations about the significance of voguing and ballroom dancing in Black LGBTQ+ spaces.

Voguing is a form of dance that borrows moves and poses similar to the ones found in editorial fashion magazines, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The ballroom scene became prominent in the 1960s and featured dance competitions among different “houses,” groups that consider their members family and compete in different categories.

Ballroom culture is a “really supportive network, particularly for Black queer and Trans people,” Jewel said, adding it is “crucial” for those communities.

Sibley was a member of House Old Navy and House Du’Mure-Versailles and was known throughout New York’s ball community for his voguing. He even volunteered to teach others how to do the dance, Jewel told CNN.

“As a Black gay man, coming to a space where people are like, ‘Yes, we want you to come and be feminine and serve and show us’ … it’s very powerful,” Jewel said.

Coleman, the transgender advocate who is also a photographer at various balls, said even in a crowded room of dancers, O’Shae would stand out.

“It didn’t matter if you saw him across the room, he had a certain smile that he would do and then he would come – it was less of a hug and more of an embrace,” said Coleman.

In the days following Sibley’s death, memorials were held throughout New York. At the Brooklyn gas station where he was killed, New York’s LGBTQ+ community gathered to honor his life by doing one of the things he loved most: dancing.

Shneaqua Purvis, CEO of Both Sides of the Violence Inc. and an organizer of one of the vigils, told CNN she feels too many have been silent about the rise in homophobia and hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

“We shouldn’t wait for a parade or a day or a month to stand up for them,” Purvis said. “We should stand up for them every day.”

Jewel said he will also remember Sibley for his vivacious smile, passion for food, and love of anime.

“I’m hoping that his untimely death will bring up conversations … I just don’t think people understand how words can hurt,” he said.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jason Carroll, Sabrina Shulman, Holly Yan and Lisa Respers France contributed to this report.

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