Former out deputy sheriff Dante Austin was honored in a May 13 memorial service hosted by the LGBT Fallen Heroes Fund in Washington, DC. Austin, who served as the Sheriff’s Office LGBTQ liaison as well as on the board of directors of Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, died by suicide in 2019.
Philadelphia Sheriff Rochell Bilal, members of the Greater Philadelphia Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL), and members of Austin’s family traveled to DC for the memorial. In addition to Austin, nine other LGBT officers, including members of the military, police officers, and sheriff and state patrol officers were honored at the memorial service. The service was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
“It was important for GOAL to attend the event to honor and remember Dante,” Sgt. Nicholas Tees, acting president of Philly GOAL, told PGN. “We often say that Dante was the best of us. He was who we should all aspire to be. Events like this help us to keep his spirit alive. It’s also a reminder that we must continue to live on his legacy. Dante had so many people who loved and supported him. However, we know that’s not always true for all LGBT fallen heroes. GOAL is committed to supporting the Fallen Heroes Fund moving forward. It’s something Dante would have wanted. He would have wanted us to ensure those left behind, those who didn’t get the recognition or whose loved ones weren’t properly recognized, had advocacy.”
Austin joined the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office in November 2013 as the first openly-gay deputy. He assumed the role of LGBTQ community liaison in May 2017, where he informed Philadelphia’s police force on LGBTQ issues and improved officer relations with the city’s gay community.
“Dante Austin was an exceptional employee at the Philadelphia sheriff‘s office who was committed to community outreach and bridging the gap between law enforcement and the members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Sheriff Rochelle Bilal told PGN. “He will be missed and we will keep his memory alive as well as the many other fallen heroes who served honorably that are gone too soon.”
The LGBT Fallen Heroes Fund, founded in 2012, identifies and honors fallen LGBT law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS, and members of the military who have dedicated their lives to their communities and give recognition to their survivors. The nonprofit also leads annual LGBT public safety events. 2022 marked the 10th annual LGBT Fallen Heroes Memorial Service.
“Most times, this memorial service is the first time that those significant others are recognized for the part they play in their loved one’s service to their communities,” the organization’s web site states. “Because of our country’s laws, most are not given the support they deserve. The memorial service is a way for the LGBT community and its allies to be there for them during their time of grieving and remind them that they are not alone.”