I recently met a group of friends in London to see our personal queen, Beyoncé, perform “Renaissance,” an album she made for us, who are seen as too gay, too Black, too loud and too free by too many.
It’s a life-giving celebration of queer people who were ignored for so long. It was never meant to be the album playing while one of “us” gets killed in the streets.
“Renaissance” is historic not just because of what Beyoncé is singing, but to whom she is singing. “Renaissance” is unapologetically Black and queer, and, unlike its famous pop music predecessors, such as Madonna’s “Vogue,” it includes “us” by sampling the voices and work of queer trailblazers like TS Madison, Kevin Aviance, Honey Dijon, Kevin JZ Prodigy and more.
It’s a life-giving celebration of queer people — like Beyonce’s late Uncle Johnny — who were ignored for so long. It was never meant to be the album playing while one of “us” gets killed in the streets.
O’Shae Sibley, a 28-year-old choreographer, was stabbed to death in Brooklyn, New York, in what authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime. He was with friends getting gas, playing Beyoncé and vogueing when reportedly they were confronted by a group of men who thought Sibley was being too gay — and should stop dancing.
Sibley was stabbed in the chest Saturday night and rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. He died as Beyoncé was performing “Renaissance” at nearby MetLife Stadium, in New Jersey.
On Wednesday morning, she mentioned him on her website with the message: “REST IN POWER O’SHAE SIBLEY.”
“The sad reality is that even in New York City, LGBTQ+ people are still subjected to increased violence, simply for being themselves,” Beverly Tillery, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement. Her group has tracked at least 45 anti-LGBTQ+ hate incidents just this year, three of them homicides.
“They murdered him because he’s gay, because he stood up for his friends,” Otis Pena, one of Sibley’s best friends, said in a heartbreaking Facebook live video hours after the incident. “His name was O’Shae, and you all killed him. You all murdered him right in front of me.”
Arrests have not yet been made, but the police have confirmed that the hate crimes unit is currently involved in the investigation. We may not know for some time if hate crime charges will be filed, but we do know that this incident follows violent attacks that are regular in this country, even as LGBTQ visibility is at historic heights.
We may not know for some time if hate crime charges will be filed, but we do know that this incident follows violent attacks that have become regular in this country.
Actress Laverne Cox made history with her 2013 Time magazine cover, a first for a trans person, but things are worse 10 years later. “[W]e have way more people who are educated about trans folks, but there’s also been a rigorous misinformation media machine,” she reflected in a recent interview with the magazine. “The backlash is ferocious. It’s genocidal.” She’s right.
Reports of hate crimes are rising and apparently not because there’s some increased willingness to report such crimes. According to recent data from the FBI, identity-based violent crimes rose at least 12% from 2020 to 2021. The attacks on LGBTQ people — including the murder of trans women of color — have only become more frequent. The homicides of trans and nonconforming people in the states and in Puerto Rico nearly doubled between 2017 and 2021. We’ve also seen high-profile deaths. Koko Da Doll, a star in the new documentary film Kokomo City, was murdered this year.
At the same time, we have seen a dramatic increase of anti-LGBTQ legislation in much of the country. The Human Rights Organization (HRC) declared a “state of emergency” during Pride Month because being LGBTQ in America has gotten so much worse. Because across this country, what we are seeing is a coordinated attack on queer people being free in public. We do what we want, and some hateful person tells us no. When we don’t listen, and that person decides we shouldn’t exist anymore.
Beckenbaur Hamilton, Sibley’s older gay neighbor, told The New York Times that the morning of Sibley’s death, he had warned him of potential violence in their community. “O’Shae wasn’t afraid of being who he was,” Hamilton said. “But I’d see how people looked at them. There was a worry in the back of my mind.” Hamilton is a Black gay person and, if he’s like the many older Black gay men I know, he knows progress can slip backward and you can be in danger in a moment’s notice.
While he was right to worry about O’Shae — and all of us must always be aware of our own communities and deploy whatever resources we have to stay safe — I do not think hiding or toning it down is the path to freedom. To the contrary, Sibley’s decision to dance and fight back was a type of heroism, an act of resistance that inspires.
I do not think hiding or toning it down is the path to freedom. To the contrary, Sibley’s decision to dance and fight back was a type of heroism, an act of resistance that inspires.
Many of us have been told to suffer quietly or to hide what we are going through as a community — as what we’ve gone through is being erased from history itself. But now more than ever we need to push more to ensure that we are not just seen, but rather more importantly, protected. We need to fight to live in communities where people like Sibley can vogue in a gas station and not be murdered. We need to be able to make choices about our own bodies and not face violence or legislative onslaught for taking care of ourselves, and we should be allowed to be the person we know to be.
This is the message that so many of us for whom Beyonce made “Renaissance” find in those house beats every time we play them in our cars. It’s become a radical affirmation that no matter who hates you, there are more people who love you — more people who want to dance with you.
It’s a record that has shown us Black queer people — as we experienced at her show — that we deserve to dance in public, to be celebrated in public and that our lives must be both protected and celebrated just like the culture we’ve produced.
O’Shae’s tragic death isn’t a sign for us to stop the music, but instead to turn it up louder and to demand that our allies join us and do the work that needs to be done in their communities so that our joy isn’t met by other people’s hate.