Sheriff’s Office honors Austin, Bilal promises LGBTQ liaison

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Sheriff Rochelle Bilal honors Dante Austin

Philadelphia’s Sheriff’s Office helmed by Sheriff Rochelle Bilal held a commendation and awards ceremony on Feb. 27 at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5. During the ceremony, Dante Austin, the first out gay deputy sheriff, who died by suicide on June 6, was honored with a special presentation, posthumous promotion to deputy sheriff sergeant and promise from Bilal that she would appoint a new LGBTQ community liaison — a position Austin had held since 2017.

Philadelphia’s Sheriff’s Office helmed by Sheriff Rochelle Bilal held a commendation and awards ceremony on Feb. 27 at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5.

During the ceremony, Dante Austin, the first out gay deputy sheriff, who died by suicide on June 7, was honored with a special presentation, posthumous promotion to deputy sheriff sergeant and promise from Bilal that she would appoint a new LGBTQ community liaison — a position Austin had held since 2017.

Austin’s death shook both the LGBTQ and Sheriff’s communities. He was found dead in his office just one month before he would have been appointed to sergeant by former Sheriff Jewell Williams and only a few days before Philadelphia’s LGBTQ Pride Parade and celebration. 

Dante Austin’s commemoration was the denouement to an evening filled with awards, promotions, distinguishments and presentations. A somber but celebratory presentation was given by Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Jetaria Taylor and Inspector Joshua Perez. Perez spoke about working with Austin in a mentorship capacity since Austin was hired in 2013, as well as Austin’s inclusion efforts. Perez and Austin had a close relationship, and Taylor said Austin looked up to Perez. Taylor awarded Austin his posthumous promotion and gave a heartfelt speech. In her opening words, she said, “I am honored to be able to present this award tonight in honor of my best friend Dante Austin. I thought about the many things I wanted to say tonight but quickly remembered that his work spoke for itself. Austin was intelligent, respectful, kind and made friends with everyone that he came in contact with. Austin proved himself to be a leader while also being a team player and was well respected and loved by those around him.” 

Jetaria Taylor

Taylor told PGN that Austin’s promotion “signaled a change within the office that was well needed. During a time where it felt like Austin was overlooked, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal came in and quickly made things right.” She said Austin’s promotion will allow his legacy to live on.

When Austin took the Deputy Sheriff’s exam in 2016, he earned the highest score according to the sheriff’s office and confirmed by Taylor when told PGN what it was like to work with Austin.

“We literally went from clearing houses in the academy together to clearinghouses on the street,” she said. “We took the Deputy Sheriff exam and scored number one and number two, earning the nickname of ‘thing one and thing two.’”

Taylor said Austin was a perfectionist and a problem solver, “like myself,” and that the two paired up as partners and called themselves the “Dream Team.” She added, “We always went above and beyond to help those in the community.”

But as indicated in her remarks at the ceremony, Austin was not only Taylor’s coworker. 

“Austin meant everything to me,” Taylor said. “We quickly became friends back in 2013 and ultimately became family. We were almost inseparable and talked to each other every single day. Austin was a son, a brother, an uncle and held the title of friend to whomever he came in contact with. Austin was an inspiration and role model especially to those individuals in the LGBTQ community.”

Taylor said she admired how quickly Austin became a face for the LGBTQ community. She said he advocated for change, specifically for the treatment of prisoners who identified as transgender. “I also admire Austin’s strength for coming out and owning who he was.” 

Austin was a well-known activist in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. He served on the board of directors of philanthropy group Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, which provides grants to local LGBTQ nonprofits. In 2018, he received the organization’s Individual Hero award in honor of his contributions to the LGBTQ community. Austin and his partner Tito Valdes, were named the first grand marshal couple in Philadelphia’s 2018 Pride parade. Austin was also a military veteran, serving during the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a discriminatory ban on LGBT service members, according to past PGN coverage. 

In the final part of last week’s ceremony, Bilal took to the podium and thanked Austin for bringing inclusion to the office, and everyone in the department for embracing him. She said that the issue of LGBTQ rights would absolutely continue in her office. 

Taylor emphatically agreed and acknowledged how Bilal’s mission aligns with Austin’s values. 

“Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has been very vocal, especially during her campaign, about welcoming all people including members of the LGBTQ community. Her commitment to treating all people with respect, regardless of their backgrounds is a prime example of what Austin stood for. In relation to Austin’s legacy, I believe that it sends out the message to stand up for what you believe in.”

Philadelphia’s Sheriff’s Office helmed by Sheriff Rochelle Bilal held a commendation and awards ceremony on Feb. 27 at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5. During the ceremony, Dante Austin, the first out gay deputy sheriff, who died by suicide on June 6, was honored with a special presentation, posthumous promotion to deputy sheriff sergeant and promise from Bilal that she would appoint a new LGBTQ community liaison — a position Austin had held since 2017.

Austin’s death shook both the LGBTQ and Sheriff’s communities. He was found dead in his office just one month before he would have been appointed to sergeant by former Sheriff Jewell Williams and only a few days before Philadelphia’s LGBTQ Pride Parade and celebration. 

Dante Austin’s commemoration was the denouement to an evening filled with awards, promotions, distinguishments and presentations. A somber but celebratory presentation was given by Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Jetaria Taylor and Inspector Joshua Perez. Perez spoke about working with Austin in the Lieutenant mentorship program and Austin’s inclusion efforts. Taylor awarded Austin his posthumous promotion and gave a heartfelt speech. In her opening words, she said, “I am honored to be able to present this award tonight in honor of my best friend Dante Austin. I thought about the many things I wanted to say tonight but quickly remembered that his work spoke for itself. Austin was intelligent, respectful, kind and made friends with everyone that he came in contact with. Austin proved himself to be a leader while also being a team player and was well respected and loved by those around him.” 

Taylor told PGN that Austin’s promotion “signaled a change within the office that was well needed. During a time where it felt like Austin was overlooked, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal came in and quickly made things right.” She said Austin’s promotion will allow his legacy to live on.

When Austin took the Deputy Sheriff’s exam in 2013, he earned the highest score according to the sheriff’s office and confirmed by Taylor when told PGN what it was like to work with Austin.

“We literally went from clearing houses in the academy together to clearing houses on the street,” she said. “We took the Deputy Sheriff exam and scored number one and number two, earning the nickname of ‘thing one and thing two.’”

Taylor said Austin was a perfectionist and a problem solver, “like myself,” and that the two paired up as partners and called themselves the “Dream Team.” She added, “We always went above and beyond to help those in the community.”

Dante Austin’s extended family

But as indicated in her remarks at the ceremony, Austin was not only Taylor’s coworker. 

“Austin meant everything to me,” Taylor said. “We quickly became friends back in 2013 and ultimately became family. We were almost inseparable and talked to each other every single day. Austin was a son, a brother, an uncle and held the title of friend to whomever he came in contact with. Austin was an inspiration and role model especially to those individuals in the LGBTQ community.”

Taylor said she admired how quickly Austin became a face for the LGBTQ community. She said he advocated for change, specifically for the treatment of prisoners who identified as transgender. “I also admire Austin’s strength for coming out and owning who he was.” 

Austin was a well-known activist in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. He served on the board of directors of philanthropy group Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, which provides grants to local LGBTQ nonprofits. In 2018, he received the organization’s Individual Hero award in honor of his contributions to the LGBTQ community. Austin and his partner Tito Valdes, were named the first grand marshal couple in Philadelphia’s 2018 Pride parade. Austin was also a military veteran, serving during the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a discriminatory ban on LGBT service members, according to past PGN coverage. 

In the final part of last week’s ceremony, Bilal took to the podium and thanked Austin for bringing inclusion to the office, and everyone in the department for embracing him. She said that the issue of LGBTQ rights would absolutely continue in her office. 

Taylor emphatically agreed and acknowledged how Bilal’s mission aligns with Austin’s values. 

“Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has been very vocal, especially during her campaign, about welcoming all people including members of the LGBTQ community. Her commitment to treating all people with respect, regardless of their backgrounds is a prime example of what Austin stood for. In relation to Austin’s legacy, I believe that it sends out the message to stand up for what you believe in.”