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O’Shae Sibley’s murder is an attack on LGBTQ people and their expression, as both rise

More than 350 anti-LGBTQ attacks reported between June 2022 and July 2023

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O’Shae Sibley (Headshot from O'Shae Sibley's Facebook page)

BY HENRY HICKS IV | What do the banning of a children’s picture book about two male penguins, white supremacist stand-offs outside of weekend brunches and a killing during impromptu dancing at a gas station have in common? Plenty. Each impinges on the escalating trend of attacks on LGBTQ+ people and their right to free expression. 

On the evening of July 29, O’Shae Sibley pulled into a Brooklyn gas station parking lot with his friends to fill up their gas tank. As they waited for the tank to fill, the group spilled from the car and used the moment to move joyfully in the hot summer night, cranking the car radio’s volume and dancing together. Sibley, a gay man, was also a skilled professional dancer and choreographer. He displayed his talents this night, voguing to the sounds of Beyoncé, an artist that Sibley and his friends were fans of. By coincidence, the artist was performing just a few miles away that night, with professional voguers joining her on stage.

Vogueing, a dance style born out of the traditionally queer ballroom scene, is known for its electrifying dips, drops and duckwalks. The style has been prominently featured in the Golden Globe-winning television show “Pose” — and, more recently, on stage in Beyoncé’s all-consuming Renaissance World Tour. The energy of the ballroom scene has spirited communities across the country, as Beyoncé’s tour has touched down city-by-city, and Sibley and his friends were not exempt to this reach. He was, in fact, eager to participate in his artistry as someone known for his role as a dancer, choreographer, and active member of New York’s ballroom community. 

As he and his friends vogued to Beyoncé in the parking lot, moves that Sibley was adept in as an artist himself, they grabbed the attention of hostile onlookers. As captured on surveillance footage, Sibley was first berated with homophobic slurs — Sibley’s vogue performance seeming to signal his sexuality to his attacker. Shortly following the verbal assault, things turned violent. Sibley was stabbed and murdered in a tragic hate crime, fueled by homophobia and triggered by Sibley’s open expression as a dancer and artist. 

In mourning, and in defiant protest in the days following, the New York City queer community  hosted a memorial at the site of his murder where they honored his memory through performance, with a vibrant and resistant ball

“You won’t break my soul. / You won’t break my soul, no, no. / I’m telling everybody,” Beyoncé sings defiantly in her single, “Break My Soul.”

The murder of O’Shae Sibley was devastating — and a signal of a disturbing trend. Increasing violence toward LGBTQ+ people, and attempts to quash their personal and artistic expression, are on the rise in the United States. Advocacy organizations such as GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League have reported surges in harassment, vandalism and physical violence against LGBTQ+ people — with 356 instances being reported between June 2022 and April 2023. Transgender people, as well as drag performers, have been targeted at notably high rates. The Human Rights Campaign reported 34 murders of trans people — mostly trans women of color — in 2022  (HRC emphasizes that the actual number is likely higher, as most attacks go unreported, or are reported inaccurately.) 

Drag shows across the country have faced threats and intimidation from armed protesters, including the far-right extremist group, the Proud Boys. Gay bars have been targeted by armed assailants, such as the tragic massacre thatoccurred at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., last November. Hospitals providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth have been targeted with bomb threats. On Aug. 18, a California store owner was shot and killed for displaying a Pride flag. Harassment, threats of violence, and hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community have steadily risen in recent years. It is clear that this bigotry has been emboldened and its first goal is to silence the free expression of LGBTQ+ people, through violence if necessary. 

The exponential increase in physical violence against LGBTQ+ people over the last few years cannot be divorced from the recent legislative environment that has grown ever-more hostile to LGBTQ+ expression. Bills categorizing drag shows as obscenity, book bans targeting LGBTQ+ authors and stories about queer identities in schools and public libraries, as well as other legislative attacks are part of this trend against the LGBTQ+ community. The attacks, both physical and through laws and bans, risk enabling a culture that normalizes repression of queer voices and increases the risk of violence aimed, in part, at suppressing expression of LGBTQ+ people, even when individuals are simply voguing to Beyoncé in public. 

Starting in 2021, we’ve seen a historic surge in book bans around the country, targeting LGBTQ+ voices and stories at a disproportionately high rate. PEN America has reported that among the top eleven books targeted by bans in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, four focused on LGBTQ+ narratives. These challenges, paired with the historic number of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people in state legislatures across the United States — with at least 566 bills ensnaring the broader LGBTQ+ community, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker — contribute to the normalization of repressing personal and artistic expression of queer people. As these policy attacks continue to advance, violence against the LGBTQ+ community has surged. 

And while O’Shae Sibley’s murder occurred in New York, a state that has passed no anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the most recent legislative session, his brutal killing shows just how pervasive the impact of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative attacks on free expression in other states are, shaping a culture that spills across borders and impacting LGBTQ+ people throughout the country. Even states perceived to be supportive to the LGBTQ+ community, such as New York, are not immune to the cultural reach of anti-LGBTQ+ repression and intimidation: the home and office of Erik Bottcher, a gay city councilmember in New York City, was vandalized last December after he voiced support for Drag Story Hour, and more recently, a rainbow Pride flag at a Manhattan restaurant was intentionally lit on fire.

Political threats to LGBTQ+ expression, whether it be through restricting and chilling on-stage performance or making it virtually impossible to even acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ people in Florida and other states’ schoolshave and will continue to put LGBTQ+ people at risk everywhere, chilling their ability to express themselves and potentially even sending them back into the closet, which, at its core, is a form of self-censorship. 

A culture of free expression, where people can speak, write — or dance — free from fear of violence, is essential to a thriving democracy. LGBTQ+ people deserve to equally enjoy this right — through creative performance, gender expression, or displays of joy. The ongoing trend of legislative attacks on drag, attempts to label LGBTQ+ stories as “obscene,” and the accompanying trend of violent assaults on LGBTQ+ people are attacks on free expression and must be condemned as such.

Henry Hicks IV is the coordinator for PEN America’s U.S. Free Expression program. PEN America is committed to defending against attacks on LGBTQ+ free expression. 

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Commentary

1970-1975: How gay liberation movement grew after Stonewall

Converging with civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war movements

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Members of the Gay Liberation Front at their communal house, 1620 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., circa 1971. From left to right: Kashi Rahman, Andy Hughes, Guy Charles, Reggie Haynes, Ronnie, David Aiken, Tim Corbett, unknown, Shima Rahman, unknown, Joseph Covert. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow History Project, Inc./David Aiken Collection)

In conjunction with WorldPride 2025, Rainbow History Project is creating an exhibit on the evolution of Pride: “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington.” This is the second of 10 articles that will share research themes for the exhibit. In “Gay and Proud,” we discuss the period between 1970-1975 and how the fledgling gay liberation movement burst on the scenes after the Stonewall Riots, converging with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the anti-Vietnam movement.

Inspired by the Black civil rights movement’s affirmation “Black is Beautiful,” the Mattachine Society of Washington coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” From 1965-1969, the Mattachine Society of Washington coordinated some of the first public demonstrations for LGBTQ equality – pickets on Independence Day called the Annual Reminders. The Gay Liberation Front wanted the 1970 Annual Reminder to be held in New York on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thus, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Signs in this first CSLD March read “Gay and Proud,” a motto that would come to label the annual Stonewall celebrations. Gay Pride has evolved into what President Biden just proclaimed “LGBTQI+ Pride Month.”

Despite the power shift from D.C.’s pickets and Philadelphia’s reminders to New York’s march, Washingtonians remained central to planning the march and its political demands, while also fostering a sense of community among homosexuals, who were starting to call themselves gays. In October of 1969, Nancy Tucker and Lilli Vincenz created The Gay Blade as a newsletter to be distributed in bars. Now called the Washington Blade, Tucker said this about its founding in a 1998 oral history with Rainbow History Project:

“Sometime after that last Fourth of July picket, the people in Mattachine must have begun to talk about how Mattachine could reach out to the gay community, as a whole in Washington, which they had never done before.”

The Gay Liberation Front DC formed in August 1970 with a communal house at 1620 S St., N.W. Its purposes, laid out by David Aiken, were “to establish a sense of community among gay people, build gay self-awareness, and educate the straight community.” GLF-DC and another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, participated in the 1971 May Day protests, which were large-scale anti-Vietnam War civil disobedience actions.

The following year on May 2-7, 1972, to commemorate May Day, GLF-DC coordinated Washington’s first Gay Pride Week. “Across the country these past two years, gay people have been getting it on for a gala spring festival celebrating the fact that we’re gay, we’re proud and we’re together,” its Gay Pride Bulletin No. 1 said. “Parties, shows, rap sessions, platform speakers, gala public picnics — all designed around the theme of GAY TOGETHERNESS — are being staged to show that gay is good and gay is here to stay!”

The goal: “rich, poor, black, white, male, female, in business or in school, in leather or in drag, in ‘the movement’ or in the closet: Gay Pride will be a time when everybody who’s gay in Washington can come to meet on common ground.” Oral history recordings and documents in the Rainbow History Archives show the event was a success, however, it was the only one that GLF-DC planned. Another “Pride” in DC didn’t occur for several years.

Between 1970-1975, countless D.C. gay organizations formed, and they showed up gay and proud in other events: the Black Panthers Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, the American Psychology Association’s annual meeting and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also disrupted conferences at Catholic University and carried anti-Nixon banners at his second inaugural. Our WorldPride 2025 exhibit, “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington,” centers the voices of the event organizers and includes the critics of Pride and the intersection of Pride and other movements for equal rights and liberation. But we need your help to do that: we are looking for images and input, so look around your attic and get involved.

Vincent Slatt volunteers as the director of archiving at the Rainbow History Project; Elinor Aspegren is a member of RHP. Visit rainbowhistory.org to get involved.

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Hurricane Beryl: The need for an LGBTQ-inclusive disaster response in the Caribbean

Category 5 storm devastated southern Windward Islands, Jamaica

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Hurricane Beryl damage on Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (Screen capture via Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation/YouTube)

Editor’s note: Outright International has allowed the Washington Blade to republish this op-ed from its website.

On the heels of the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States held in Antigua and Barbuda in May 2024, Caribbean countries are confronted with a historic event. Described as the earliest Category 5 hurricane to develop in the Atlantic, Hurricane Beryl tore through the Caribbean during the first week of July 2024. Hurricane Beryl caused catastrophic damage in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Jamaica, as well as varying degrees of damage in St. Lucia and Barbados. Hurricane Beryl follows an increased number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region, the most recent being Category 4 Hurricane Ian (2022), Category 5 Hurricane Dorian (2019), Category 5 Hurricane Maria (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Irma (2017), and Category 5 Hurricane Matthew (2016). These hurricanes resulted in the loss of lives, displacement, disruption in livelihoods, destruction of vegetation and infrastructure, uninhabitable areas, and grave economic loss. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the Caribbean, climate-related disasters exacerbate the vulnerabilities and pre-existing inequalities that they face.

Survival and viability of Caribbean islands threatened

Caribbean countries are experiencing the effects of climate change (Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, 2021). Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the region by 25-30 percent (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2018). As indicated by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes cause the most devastating impacts. The “increased frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events,” as evidence of the “rapid and adverse impacts of climate change,” represent the “greatest threats to the survival and viability” of small island states in the Caribbean (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2018, p. 83United Nations Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, 2024, para 27.)

USD billion in damages

The financial toll of these disasters is distressing. The International Monetary Fund highlights that the Caribbean is “the most exposed region to climate-related natural disasters, with estimated adaptation investment needs of more than $100 billion, equal to about one-third of its annual economic output” (IMF, 2023). Despite this vulnerability, the Caribbean receives minimal private climate financing (IMF, 2023). The Caribbean has the highest average estimated disaster damage as a ratio to GDP globally, with some instances of damage exceeding the size of the economy (IMF, 2018). For example, Hurricane Maria resulted in $1.2 billion in damages to Dominica, totaling 226 percent of GDP (IMF, 2021). Hurricane Dorian resulted in $3.4 billion in damages to the Bahamas (estimated at 25-30 percent of GDP) (Inter-American Development Bank and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2022).

LGBTQ people are among those who are disproportionately impacted

LGBTQ people in the Caribbean continue to struggle with an unrealized vision of equality (Myrie, 2024). They are among the most marginalized in the region. They often experience discriminationeconomic and societal exclusionviolence, and the threat of violence, mainly due to the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations and the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. 

As a consequence of Hurricane Beryl, affected LGBTQ people in the Caribbean face increased housing and food insecurity, disruption in economic livelihoods, reduced access to community support structures, and increased exposure to harassment and violence. Recognizing the exacerbated vulnerabilities of LGBTQ people does not mean that they are at a greater risk of experiencing climate-related disasters. Rather, it is about appreciating that “in times of crisis those most marginalized tend to suffer disproportionately compared to the broader population” (Outright International, 2020). Further, where societal discrimination is strong, LGBTIQ people may have to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity to remain safe, making their suffering invisible to those providing assistance (Outright International, 2024). 

In the post-disaster context, LGBTQ people in the Caribbean may experience “discrimination in accessing emergency and social protection services and in emergency shelters” and “challenges integrating into their communities and earning a livelihood” (UN Women Caribbean, 2022). In the Bahamas, for example, post-Hurricane Dorian, some displaced LGBTQ persons were reluctant to stay in shelters for fear of violence. For those with sufficient resources, Hurricane Dorian was a catalyst for them to migrate (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 2020). 

In Haiti, LGBTQ people grappled with a heightened sense of insecurity during and after the 2010 earthquake. They reported being blamed for the earthquake and were at an increased risk of harassment and violence (International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and SEROvie, 2011). Lesbians and bisexual women reported incidences of sexual violence and corrective rape, while gay and transgender men reported harassment and denial of access to healthcare, housing and food (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). Affected LGBTQ persons shared that the earthquake “decimated the already limited physical spaces, social networks and support services available to them” (IGLHRC and SEROvie, 2011). 

Although LGBTQ people in the Caribbean tend to be disproportionately impacted in the response to their “recovery, reconstruction and livelihood needs and experience “poor recovery outcomes,” they are “largely absent from climate and mobility strategies in the Caribbean” (Bleeker et al., 2021).

Meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people is necessary for an effective and equitable disaster response

International, regional, and local stakeholders must secure the meaningful inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Caribbean for an effective and equitable disaster response. This can be achieved by ensuring that LGBTQ people actively contribute to the planning processes and are engaged in all stages of the disaster management cycle. Meaningful inclusion allows for the full appreciation of the unique vulnerabilities of those affected and is critical for humanitarian actors to respond to their needs effectively. There must also be adequate safeguards to eliminate increased security risks and protect against discrimination, particularly in the provision of services and the distribution of resources. 

Finally, “to ensure that the humanitarian sector does not reinforce or generate new forms of discrimination and harm, humanitarian actors must approach relationship-building with LGBTIQ organizations with sensitivity and commitment to safety, security, and confidentiality,” centering local knowledge and the voices of those most in need of life-saving assistance (Outright International, 2024).

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Congressional Women’s Softball Game comes hours after anti-LGBTQ votes on Hill

We must not forget the threats to queer lives that reappear once players leave field

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As a lesbian working on the Hill, I was thrilled to hear about the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Though I’ve never played the sport, I knew the game would be my Super Bowl, the queer political event of the year — never mind the White House Pride Reception taking place the very same night. 

So, on June 26, I put on my baseball cap, tightened my overalls, and enjoyed seven innings of congressional softball at Watkins Recreation Center. The ice cream was free. Typo the border collie threw out the first pitch. Everyone, donned in their C-Span hats, was thrilled to watch their representatives dive for first.

Yet, in the face of this intimate, community-based event, I couldn’t brush off the political tension undergirding the entire evening. The game felt more authentic, definitely more queer, and more dedicated to its charities than the Congressional Baseball Game that took place just two weeks earlier, but it was nonetheless plagued by the same sentiment of political escapism, a momentary distraction from the severity of American politics today. I’d come from work, where I’d been reviewing Project 2025 and hearings where homophobic rhetoric was a staple. So the irony of lawmakers—who had voted just hours earlier to pass appropriations bills packed with anti-LGBTQ riders—playing softball was not lost on me. Ultimately, there is a space for comic and communal relief within politics, but such moments like the Congressional Women’s Softball Game cannot distract us from the very real threats to queer lives that culminate once the players leave the field and return to the halls of Congress.

Started in 2009 by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, and Sen. Susan Collins, the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game sees Republican and Democratic congresswomen face off against their rivals: the Washington, D.C. press corps. The tradition began when Rep. Wasserman Schultz announced her battle with breast cancer and has now raised more than $4 million for the Young Survival Coalition. Though it is young, the game is an annual force of good.

The Congressional Baseball Game, however, is far older. Dating back to 1909, the annual event pits Republicans against Democrats at Nationals Park. This year, the annual game saw the GOP win 31-11, hosted 30,000 fans, and raised $2.2 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, Nationals Philanthropies, and The Washington Literacy Center. 

And though this year’s games felt entirely different—one was an event for charity, the other for Pride—there were still numerous startling similarities. Countless police officers with assault rifles lined the outfield and the rooftops. Corporate sponsors like McDonald’s and Spotify provided snacks and merchandise. A dog caught frisbees between innings (which both sets of fans loved). And, most importantly, there was a tension between the levity of lawmakers diving for fly balls and the political power in their hands. At one point during the game, my girlfriend and I cheered for a representative responsible for a double play, before realizing she was one of many Republicans on the field to have voted against the Respect for Marriage Act. We were further surprised as the Republican outfielder high-fived and laughed with teammate and lesbian Rep. Sharice Davids. 

I was reminded that—despite the seeming bipartisanship and strive for a greater good—events like these can and should not distract us from the threats facing queer—and especially trans—people in appropriations bills, upcoming Supreme Court decisions, and the November election. In fact, more anti-LGBTQ bills than ever were introduced this year, each motivated by partisanship and individualistic thinking that one softball game cannot erase. The day after the game at the House’s Pride month special order hour, lesbian Rep. Becca Balint described Republican representatives approaching her in the halls of Congress, saying they “didn’t mean [her]” when they voted in favor of numerous anti-LGBTQ amendments and bills.

In the face of all this, it is difficult to reconcile light-hearted events like the Congressional Softball Game, the Congressional Baseball Game, or even Will on the Hill. Of course, there is a time and place to make light of our political circumstances, to find avenues for queer joy. Without humor and optimism in politics, congressional offices would go unstaffed; it would be impossible to live a sane day under our government. But we must remember that these events are only momentary Hail Mary’s to forget the seemingly downward spiral of our democracy. We must not forget what is at stake, despite the good and bad distractions, whether we are winning or losing the battle for equality. 

Perhaps last month’s softball game did just that. It was an intimate show of community building, motivated by an issue we can all get behind: the fight to end breast cancer. It was intent on its mission, and not once did it fear decomposing into a brawl for political party pride. But we cannot think ourselves safe, especially when politics becomes light-hearted. Instead, we must remember to fight for the values of bipartisanship and the common good that these events embody.

Camille Cypher is a student at the University of Chicago and an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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