New York City’s ballroom community turned out in full force over the weekend to mourn the killing of O’Shae Sibley, a 28-year-old dancer, in what authorities deemed a homophobic and racist attack a week earlier.
Friends, sympathizers and members of Sibley’s family gathered at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Chelsea on Saturday evening, and marched to the Christopher Street Pier overlooking the Hudson for a memorial service that culminated in a sweaty dance pit.
“We didn’t up and leave our families behind to come to New York City for stuff like this to happen to us,” said Joshua Sanchez, who also goes by Azul, a close friend of Sibley’s who spoke at the service. “It’s not fair.”
Otis Peña, another close friend who was with Sibley at the time of his killing and described holding him as he bled out in an emotional Facebook live video, told the crowd he thought he understood why Sibley had been targeted: he was defending his friends
“O’Shae stood up for what he believed in,” he said. “O’Shae stood up because he was a protector.”
‘Clearly a Hate Crime’
Sibley was a gifted dancer and member of House of Du’Mure-Versailles in the city’s ballroom community, a queer subculture that began in Black and Latino circles in the 1970s. Houses acted as adoptive families for queer and trans youth often estranged from their blood relatives, and would compete in extravagant displays of costume and voguing at balls.
Sibley’s killing on July 30 in a gas station parking lot on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood, where he and his friends were dancing to a Beyoncé song while fueling up on their way home from a trip to the Jersey Shore, sent shockwaves throughout New York City’s LGBTQ community and beyond. His death has inspired TikTok videos of people voguing in gas station parking lots, and a message of support from Beyoncé herself.
The 17-year-old suspect, who attended a high school near the scene of the attack, surrendered himself to authorities on Friday, Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference Saturday. Helen Peterson, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office said the teen, whose name was not released because of his age, was arraigned Friday night, and held in custody. He’s due back in the youth part of Brooklyn Supreme Court on Monday.
Assistant Chief Joseph Kenny of the detective bureau said the boy and his friends had confronted Sibley and his friends, hurling anti-gay and anti-Black slurs for about four minutes before the stabbing.
Adams said the attack was “something clearly that was a hate crime,” even as he contested “the impression that it came from hate from the Muslim community towards the LGBTQ+ community—that was in fact not true.”
‘We Come To Ballroom to Be Peaceful’
Saturday’s vigil followed one Friday evening at the gas station in Midwood where Sibley was stabbed, as a few hundred demonstrators gathered to mourn, and then dance, as they made their presence felt.
That corner of the 70 Precinct is where it intersects with the 66 and 61 Precincts, and officers from all three watched mostly from a distance.
While Adams, speaking in the same spot on Saturday morning, warned against framing the incident as emblematic of any tension between the Muslim and the LGBTQ communities, Black transgender activist Qween Jean on Friday night talked to a rapt assembly about how “we protect ourselves” while saying the police terrorized them in remarks that made no mention of religion.
Asked about that sentiment, Adams, who later placed flowers on the makeshift memorial to Sibley, said that “when people are in pain, they express their pain.”
The mayor’s observation at the scene of the crime Saturday morning came hours after mourners had taken to the streets there the previous evening to dance in Sibley’s memory.
“My eyes is puffy because I’ve been crying all day,” said 23-year-old Kristen Miranda, a lifelong New Yoker who’s been dancing on the trains since he was 17. Miranda got to know Sibley about three years ago, when he first moved to New York City from Philadelphia.
“I was brand spanking new, what we call in the ballroom scene a kitten, and I was eager to learn my culture and my community as well.” Miranda recalled, while remembering Sibley as a giving, loving and generous person and teacher.
“We come to ballroom to be peaceful, and that’s exactly who O’Shea was and who he was with,” Miranda said. “People that bring him peace. People that when they see you, their eyes light up when you’re around.”
Sibley’s murder, Miranda continued, was another painful reminder about the dangers in New York City for people who don’t present as straight, recalling how “I actually got jumped by a whole bunch of kids in front of my own home. I don’t even walk around with headphones anymore in my own city where I was born and raised.”
Actor and dancer Jason Rodriguez, 33, part of the cast of the hit series Pose about the New York City ballroom scene, said later that it had felt cathartic to dance on the spot where Sibley had died. The two had met years ago when they made a voguing together video about Philadelphia, Sibley’s hometown.
“I feel like he was very happy to see and to feel us continue to vogue,” he said. “The aggression made towards him, we were able to diminish it by continuing to vogue in his honor.”