The city of Philadelphia is in mourning after an LGBTQ advocate and city servant was found dead.
This past Friday, 27-year-old Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin was found dead at his desk in the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. Austin died of an apparent suicide by use of a gun.
“While we are awaiting confirmation from the Medical Examiner’s Office, Deputy Austin is believed to have suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Sheriff Jewell Williams said in a statement.
“This is is a tragedy for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Austin’s family and the local LGBTQ community,” Williams added. “Dante was a person who believed in and cared about everybody.”
Austin was hired by the Sheriff’s Office in November of 2013 after earning the highest score on the deputy sheriff’s exam. He was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant this July 1st.
Austin was a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and visibility in Philadelphia. He served as the sheriff office’s LGBTQ liaison and was on the board of directors for the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, which gives grants to local LGBTQ nonprofits.
Austin’s efforts for LGBTQ people did not go unnoticed, as he was given the Individual Hero award for his activism. In addition, we shared with you last year that Austin and his partner Robert “Tito” Valdez were named the first Grand Marshal couple for Philly Pride.
“Friends, I am destroyed and heartbroken by the news that ripped through our community this morning,” wrote friend and co-worker Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, on Facebook this past Friday.
“Our beautiful Dante was a powerful force and a loving friend, beloved by our communities and by me personally,” Hikes continued. “We will be feeling the devastation of this loss in every corner of our work, celebration, and love. It is nearly impossible to put into words how much he meant to all of us.”
The William Way LGBT Community Center held a grief support gathering and vigil followed by peer counseling sessions for community members after hearing of the news. Chris Bartlett, the executive director of William Way, stated that Austin’s passing will be a major loss for the city.
“He was a transformative character,” he said. “Not just in what he did, but in who he was as a person. …The love and the joy and the passion that he exhibited as a person and as a human being was so powerful.”
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, you can contact the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1(800)273-8255.
In addition, you can contact the Crisis Services of North Alabama at (256) 716-1000, text the crisis text line at 741-741, or download the SPEAK suicide prevention app for free.