Dante Austin was a deputy with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and was an LGBTQ activist. Austin was found dead at his desk on June 7. He was 27 years old.
The tragic news of Austin’s passing was broken by fellow LGBTQ activist and Pennsylvania State Rep, Brian Sims. Sims tweeted on the morning of June 7, “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 Philadelphia Inquirer, citing police sources, said that Austin’s death appeared to be a suicide. Austin was found in the sheriff’s office, located at 11 South Broad Street. The Inquirer report said that Austin’s body was found at around 6:45 a.m.
According to his LinkedIn account, Austin joined the sheriff’s office in November 2013 and in the summer of 2016, he was promoted to the department’s LGBT Liaison. At the time of his promotion, Austin was quoted by the Philadelphia Gay News as saying, “When I take this badge and this gun off, I’m still gay. I’ve been a member of the LGBT community forever. I’ve been a member of the law-enforcement community for three years. They’re both very important to me. I really want to help bridge that gap.”
Prior to his time in the sheriff’s office, Austin served six years in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence systems maintainer and integrator. In addition, Austin was also an instructor in cultural diversity at the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute between August 2014 and July 2016. CBS Philadelphia reports that Austin was to be promoted to sergeant on July 1.
Austin had studied electronic technology at Cochise College, justice administration at Rosemount College and was in the process of studying for a qualification in public administration at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
Speaking to the Inquirer, the executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, Chris Bartlett, said of Austin, “Dante was a big-hearted, community-oriented, dedicated leader who was a pioneer in bringing LGBT sensitivity to the Sheriff’s Office. He’s part of a generation of young LGBT leaders of color who are taking the reins from my generation. He’s an irreplaceable loss. We’ll aim to have a Pride Weekend that is worthy of his legacy, but it will be difficult.” Bartlett also mentioned that a memorial to Austin will be held at 3 p.m. on June 7.
In a June 2017 interview with Philadelphia Gay News, Austin explained that he was born and raised in Philadelphia. Austin said that aside from his time in the army, he has lived in the city for his entire life. During the interview, Austin said that his father was black and his mother was white. He said that he was raised by his mother. Austin said, “We grew up in the Northeast and I was predominantly around my family on the maternal side, so I always felt like the “black kid” — the black cousin, the black grandkid — and then I’d visit my dad’s side and I was the “white boy.” I’d hear, “You talk white!””
Austin said in the same interview that he came out in the 12th grade, just after he broke up with his then-girlfriend. Austin’s sister is bisexual and the pair came out to their parents together. At the same time, Austin enlisted in the military where he described himself as being “very closeted” due to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the time.