Their shirts read, “Vogue as an act of resistance” as they celebrated the life of 28-year-old professional dancer O’Shae Sibley, who was killed on July 29 after dancing to a Beyoncé song at a Brooklyn gas station.
And their actions, as members of the city’s Ballroom community made their way to that same gas station on Friday, paid respects to the late dancer and celebrated his life through dance.
Isaiah Manning, 22 who traveled to the Midwood gas station from South Ozone Park, Queens, said it was important to show up for his community at a time when LQBTQ rights are under attack across the country.
“It was important to come out today because this is not the only incident that we had with one of our people having to deal with such a hate crime like this,” said Manning, referring to Sibley’s death, which police are investigating as a hate crime. “He got murdered for literally doing something that we do down the street just to express, just to feel happy, just to do whatever… We gotta make sure that we keep on vocal, we keep on being free, we keep on having fun.”
Police made an arrest over the weekend, charging a 17-year-old with second-degree murder in the case. A funeral for Sibley was scheduled for Tuesday in Philadelphia.
A vigil emerged underneath the Mobil gas station sign as people laid out candles, pride flags and flowers. The gas station was closed to cars for the evening as a protest took up the sidewalk. But as more people showed up, people started to spill onto the streets.
Reflecting on Sibley’s killing, 29-year-old Demi Washington said she worried about the next time she may have to attend a similar event.
“It’s disheartening that we’ve lost a community member,” Washington said. “But what’s mostly affecting me right now is just knowing that these types of things [will] soon happen again. So I have to live in anticipation that this might happen again, and that’s even more tragic.”
For the first hour-and-a-half of the gathering, speakers addressed the tragedy of Sibley’s killing. They held signs that read, “Justice for O’Shae,” chanted his name and held a moment of silence.
Later, the crowd split, creating a makeshift runway on Avenue P where people took turns voguing to music.
The visible queerness and joy of the event touched 29-year-old Flatbush resident Jaylin Simmons, who is also a dancer.
“It’s the girls just pumping their beat having a good time. And it’s what O’Shae would have wanted and what O’Shea was basically just trying to capture in the moment,” Simmons said. “It was just a person just feeling their best, they’re just, they’re in their element. As a dancer, I felt that — sometimes music just sends you, so you can’t fight the feeling wherever you’re at, you know?”
To Junior Duplessis, 26, attending the event was a chance to honor Sibley, and to protest his killing, sending the message that the LGBTQ community won’t be intimidated by hate.
“I had to come out and show support just also spiritually because I know his spirit is probably still around just to let him know that we care and we love him and also to demonstrate to everybody around that we’re not going to tolerate this. This is crazy. This is fascism. We deserve to exist and that’s it, period,” Duplessis said. “We’re not gonna go anywhere, anywhere. This is our city too.”
Many attendees, like 32-year-old Jahi Ralph, said they felt a sense that it could have been them in Sibley’s position.
“We all listen to Beyoncé We all dance. I’m a dancer, so I could have been on the street just dancing and having a good time,” Ralph said. “It could have been me. It could have been my brother. It could have been my sister. It could have been anybody.”
Ralph said he knew Sibley from the Ballroom community and described him as a joyous person, who was always in good spirits and always dancing. He said he took comfort in being in community on Friday with whom he feels safest.
“I’m part of the community because I love to let myself shine bright and my community accepts me like no other,” Ralph said. “My community gets me like no other. And we stand by each other. Even when we are against each other, we still find time like this to stand with each other because it’s so much against us already.”
Ralph continued, “It’s one thing to be Black, but then to be Black and gay, it’s a whole different thing. So I stay with my community and I vogue with them and I runaway with them because they get me and I get them and we share one skin honestly.”