ICYMI: A dancer's killing — over voguing — highlights the dangers Black LGBTQ Americans face
"Friends, family members and activists are mourning the death of O'Shae Sibley, a Black gay man who was stabbed late last month while dancing with friends at a New York City gas station," said Rachel Treisman for NPR. "The 28-year-old professional dancer and choreographer was killed while voguing to Beyoncé's music as his friends filled up their car on the way home from the Jersey Shore on July 29."
The voguing tributes to Sibley are especially fitting, Williams says, as they "personify the LGBTQ community's historic resilience amid highly discouraging societal treatment."
Voguing occupies what he describes as a salient space in Black American LGBTQ history.
The highly stylized form of dance emerged in New York between the 1960s and 1980s, giving rise to the drag, queer and trans competitions known as balls.
Black and Latino voguers would battle it out on behalf of their houses — groups that were "part competitive affiliation, part surrogate family," as the National Museum of African American History and Culture puts it.
They used the "rhetorical functions of voguing" to queer gender norms in drag and gender performative genres, peacefully settle disputes among rivals (such as by "throwing shade") and share their personal stories, Williams explains.
"Amid their exclusion from White LGBTQ rights discussions, the ball scene and voguing granted Black LGBTQ people a haven to not only foreground their queer aesthetics and extraordinary talents but also express the intersectional marginality of being Black and LGBTQ in a queerphobic, American ecosystem aiming to inflict unwarranted violence upon them and erase their social contributions," he adds.
LGBTQ people of color also face discrimination within the broader LGTBQ community based on intersectional factors like race, he adds. Because of that, he says, LGBTQ people of color "must meticulously analyze the cultural politics of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ spaces and exercise the utmost caution in every environment we enter, and always be on alert for potential danger."
Williams says there's no one-size-fits-all approach, but points to Sibley's death as another sign that more needs to be done.
"There exists a clear need for local, state, and federal LGBTQ safety initiatives, task forces, and an acknowledgment of the limited safety avenues for this minoritized community if something as innocuous as a Black gay man joyfully dancing with friends at a gas station can put someone's life in danger and result in murder," he writes.