Tragedy struck in Philadelphia on Friday ahead of its annual Pride weekend. Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin, the department’s LGBT liaison, was found dead in his office on Friday morning of what is thought to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound (pending confirmation from the Medical Examiner’s Office). Austin was 27.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: “Police and medics raced to the building at 6:45 a.m. Friday, police said. Sheriff Jewell Williams confirmed Austin’s death shortly after noon. Austin, a U.S. Army veteran who was working in the Civil Enforcement Unit, was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office on July 1, Williams said.”
Said Sheriff Jewell Williams: “This is a tragedy for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Austin’s family, and the local LGBTQ community. Dante was a person who believed in and cared about everybody. He had the highest score on the Deputy Sheriff’s exam when he was hired in November 2013. He was our first openly gay deputy sheriff and we promoted him to become our first LGBTQ community liaison in May 2017.”
The Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs has lowered the rainbow flag at City Hall in Austin’s memory.
Said the mayor’s office: “Dante worked tirelessly, always, to lift up the most marginalized among us, to secure safety and protection for the most vulnerable, and to serve his community with unparalleled dedication and a warmth and generosity that moved so many of us. Dante’s legacy is one of boldness, bravery, compassion, and an unfailing commitment to a kinder and more just world for all. As we move forward in mourning and honoring our friend and colleague, may we cherish and celebrate the ways he changed us, improved our city, and protected and saved lives.”
Philadelphia Rep. Brian Sims tweeted: “Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community lost one of our best & brightest last night! Dante Austin was one of the strongest & kindest champions for equality I’ve ever met. He lifted up everyone he touched. He supported everyone who needed him. He cared deeply & loved loudly.”
The William Way LGBT Community Center mourned Austin on Facebook and held a vigil for Austin on Friday afternoon.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please ask for help. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text “talk” to 741-741.