Remembering O’Shae Sibley: He Was Victimized, But He Wasn’t A Victim

The death of my friend and former house member has ignited a new fire, to push back through my art.

As told to Chandra Whitfield

O’Shae Sibley was a dancer, artist and choreographer whose life tragically ended July 29 after a confrontation at a Brooklyn, N.Y., gas station in which witnesses say homophobic remarks were hurled at him while he was vogue dancing.  A high school student has been charged with second-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty.

Marcus Henderson, a friend of Sibley’s who works in production at Paramount,'s parent company, looks back on their relationship and what his death truly means.

What I remember most about the first time I ever laid eyes on thee O’Shae Sibley was his vibrant smile. I know it sounds cliche’, but it was infectious. It literally lit up that rehearsal room. There was also a sense of pain behind his grin that drew me in and I just had to know, who was this dynamic young individual standing before me?

It was late summer of 2019 and I had wrapped up work on a documentary on “fatherhood” status on the Black ballroom scene, an underground subculture that a Black transgender woman by the name Crystal LaBeija created to support and celebrate Black and Latino LGBTQ people. Now I was in New York City working on a marketing video on The Royal and Iconic House of LaBeija, one of the “houses” connected to the vibrant scene. Little did I know that I would join soon thereafter and just three years later be named the “father” over the very same house, a title I proudly hold to this day.

As a new member and lead dancer, O’Shae immediately stood out; and not just because he was a striking chocolate-complected Black man who stood six feet tall; but also because of the story I believe he could convey through the five elements of vogueing, the prominent expressive dance that is central to our ballroom culture. A highly stylized form of dance, Black and Latino LGBTQ communities created vogueing in the 1960’s and it was later popularized by Madonna, most notably in her 1990 hit song Vogue.

On this shoot, like anytime you spent any length of time with O’Shae, he spontaneously erupted into dance, his arms and legs gliding effortlessly  through the air, like a graceful swan gliding across a serene lake or a regal lioness sauntering through the Serengeti. The other dancers on the shoot immediately crowded around him in awe, also taken by this man I would come to know as dynamic, resilient, complicated and über-talented. To know O'Shae was to love him and The House of LaBeija was home for us all. O'Shae’s magnetism kept me captivated as a filmmaker, but our friendship bonded us for life.

Slain Dancer O'Shae Sibley Called 'Beacon Of Light' At Funeral

That’s why words cannot adequately capture the mix of emotions: excruciating pain, crippling heartbreak and debilitating numbness that flooded through my body, when I stared at my smartphone two weeks ago, as a man I didn’t know announced to the world that O'Shae was dead. “They killed him! They killed him,” the teary-eyed guy wailed on Facebook Live, each word echoing in my head. O'Shae was dead? My friend was gone at the tender age of 28?  Wait, what?

Turns out O'Shae was not just dead, he’d been viciously stabbed to death by a total stranger in a homophobic rage outside of a Mobil gas station in Brooklyn, all for dancing. Yes, the very thing that made O'Shae, O'Shae.

Through media reports, I’d learn that he and four friends had made the quick gas run on July 29, 2023. While filling up, they opted to pass some time by voguing. As Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album blared through the car speakers, witnesses say, a group of men approached them and began hurling homophobic slurs; demanding, in so many words, that they stop being “so gay.” An argument broke out and surveillance video shows one of the men repeatedly stabbing O'Shae before cowardly fleeing the scene.

I use the term “man” lightly, as I don’t have any respect or empathy for anyone who would take a life so senselessly, especially for such an absurd reason. A 17-year-old has been charged and the case, rightfully so, is being prosecuted as a hate crime. The shock is still fresh for me, members of our tight-knit ballroom community and the extended Black LGBTQ community. It literally took an entire week for me to wrap my mind around the reality of it all. Then came the rage that still stirs deep within my soul.

A Grim Reality

O'Shae was victimized, but he is no victim. His death is a sobering reminder, or should be, of the very real terror that Black queer people live with and face every single day. We regularly fear for our safety and our livelihoods and mental health are threatened daily. We get it from other races, but the worst part is that we get it from our own Black people too. That’s why the ballroom scene is more than just fun for us, it’s a way to cope, survive and build some semblance of community and a family, as many of us are rejected by our own families and communities just for living our truth.

Organizations like Ballroom We Care, Destination Tomorrow and House Lives Matter are literally lifelines that help keep many of us, the lucky ones, alive and away from the illicit drug use, suicide and other destructive behaviors that ravage our community at epidemic levels.

Days after O'Shae's untimely demise, many of us led tributes and rallies, including voguing en masse at gas stations across the country, in honor of him and the ruthless murders and savage attacks of the countless other nameless, faceless queer people of color whose murders and attacks don't get the media attention and law enforcement support they deserve.

After that, my mind immediately jumped back to the LaBeija Productions  footage that I’d shot of O'Shae dancing as freely and gleefully as he’d always had. Earlier this year, he’d reached out and all but begged me to send him that footage. I was torn, since he’d abruptly departed our house for another. Truth be told, after some serious thought I’d decided to give it to him, but I never got around to it. I thought I had more time.  Sadly, I do not.

Having that footage has now ignited the fire of activism within me, to raise my voice and to use my art, my gift for film production, like O'Shae did with dance; as a vehicle to push back at homophobia and all forms of discrimination and prejudice. I will use this footage to share with the world his God given gift and tell the story that O'Shae Sage O LaBeija Demure Versailles Sibley has died, but more importantly, that he lived and his life mattered.

He didn’t deserve to spend his last moments on this Earth, lying in a pool of his own blood with his head pressed against the cold concrete; while an album that our beloved Queen Bey is said to have recorded in tribute to the Black, queer roots of disco music, thumped through car speakers nearby. He didn’t, nor do any of us in the Black LGBTQ community, deserve to be robbed of our lives, our liberty or any meaningful chance at the pursuit of happiness.

I’m now working with the BET News production team on developing a docu-series to raise awareness about these injustices that ravage the lives of us in the Black LGBTQ community. As for O’Shae, I will let my art speak for him in death, the way he allowed his art of dance to speak for him in life. Like the t-shirt I wear proudly says: vogueing is an act of resistance. We’re voguing for O'Shae, for justice and we won’t stop until justice is served and the world acknowledges that our lives matter equally.

Chandra Whitfield is a multi-award-winning multimedia journalist based in Colorado.

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