Philadelphia’s First Openly Gay Deputy Sheriff Found Dead Ahead Of Pride Parade

Philadelphia’s first openly gay deputy sheriff apparently died by suicide just before the city’s annual Pride parade and festival, authorities said.

Dante Austin, 27, was found dead from what authorities said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his desk inside the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office early Friday.

He was a U.S. Army veteran and the sheriff office’s first LGBTQ community liaison, Sheriff Jewell Williams said in a statement

“This is a tragedy for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Austin’s family and the local LGBTQ community,” Williams said. “Dante was a person who believed in and cared about everybody.” 

Austin was hired in November 2013 after earning the highest score on the deputy sheriff’s exam and was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant on July 1, Williams said.

He was working to earn a master’s degree in public administration from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, according to Austin’s LinkedIn page.

Members of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community and their allies mourned Austin’s death as the city was gearing up for Sunday’s annual parade and festival celebrating LGBTQ pride. Philadelphia’s City Hall on Friday lowered its rainbow flag to half-staff in his memory.

“Friends, I am destroyed and heartbroken by the news that ripped through our community this morning,” Amber Hikes, executive director of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, wrote on her Facebook page 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.”

William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia hosted a gathering on Friday for community members to memorialize Austin and offer support to one another. The center also offered peer counseling for anyone needing “an ear to process this or anything else.”

Tributes to Austin poured in on social media.

“What a terrible loss,” one person wrote on Facebook. “I worked with Deputy Austin for three years and he made everyday brighter.”

Another person on Facebook called Austin “one of the most impressive young men it has been my privilege to know.”

“The works he performed on behalf of our LGBTQ community will shine on as his legacy from generation to generation,” the Facebook user wrote. “RIP.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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