The name O’Shae, when said repetitively in chant, gives a beat for a vogue, simultaneously sounding like the West African Yoruba word asé, meaning “it is so,” similar to “Amen.” The name O’Shae, said to derive from the word Joshua, means “to save.” The Irish say it’s a powerful name meaning to be “fortunate” or hawklike — one sharp with vision and protective of their nests. And yet, whichever cultural definition one chooses, you evoke the spirit of the human O’Shae Sibley — a New Yorker from Philly, who was only 28 when his life was senselessly robbed. 

July 29, 2023 had been a buzzing day. Beyoncé fans took to the Jersey Turnpike for the first day of her New Jersey-New York leg of the Renaissance Tour. Sibley and friends piled into the car on the same Jersey highway for a beach trip. At around 11 p.m., Beyoncé’s dancers vogued onstage for thousands while at a Mobil gas station in Midwood, Brooklyn, Sibley and friends vogued to her music. According to news reports, one witness said that as the group danced, a group of men approached them, yelling homophobic and racial slurs, telling them to stop and claiming that their dancing was offensive to their faith.

O’Shae Sibley.

Courtesy of Destineh Kelly

“We were having a ball,” recalls friend Azul Mari Juanna of their beach trip. Juanna, a prominent drag queen, was with Sibley when he was killed. “We were learning the choreography for my next big show. I’m doing a Beyoncé performance and we were dancing to ‘My Power.’ O’Shae and Otis [Pena, Sibley’s best friend from Philadelphia] were my back-up dancers and O’Shae was going to be Blue [Ivy].”  

In Beyoncé’s performance, the song has been a viral moment, showcasing her dancing alongside her eldest child Blue Ivy. When Juanna retells the beach trip, it seems almost adjacent to the events taking place at MetLife that night, as if it was the same situation but in an alternate universe. “It was a great day until we got to the gas station,” Juanna says.

In a Facebook live, Pena recounted the words of the men who had approached them. “We [are] Muslim, we don’t do that gay shit over here,” Pena said between tears. Sibley had attempted to diffuse the situation, while also sticking up for his group of friends. “We may be gay but it’s not calling for all of that,” he said, according to Pena. “We’re not going to live in hiding.” According to Pena, this is when the scuffle broke out and Sibley was stabbed in the chest.  

As visibility and discourse regarding gay men, femmes, and transgender women is increasing to raise awareness and acceptance, the violence against these marginalized groups continue. Sibley’s murder is representative of a larger societal attitude. It exposes the dangers of homophobia and transphobia, and how when there’s an abundant culture of folks who feel threatened by LGBTQ existences and experiences, it can and oftentimes does lead to senseless acts of violence, especially towards queer Black folks. 

IT’S NINE DAYS AFTER SIBLEY’S DEATH. On West 13th street in New York City’s Greenwich Village — where the fight for LGBTQ rights has been centerstage since the 1960s — orange balloons, Sibley’s favorite color, fill a back room of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center — better known as the Center — which has aided LGBTQ people for 40 years. On this Saturday, the Center is holding a memorial service followed by a march to Pier 47, where a balloon and lantern release will take place and, of course, vogueing. O’Shae’s face, adorned with yellow eyeshadow, is on a projector that sits on a wall above a stage. Family, friends, and an array of Black queer folks within the community of activism and ballroom, file in silently and somberly. Willie the Genius, a Bed-Stuy based artist, entertainer, and activist sits quietly in observation, with their black vegan-leather Cise purse that reads “Protect Black People” by their side. The room, filled with kin and strangers, is a testament to the ways Sibley exhibited being a “beacon of light” in his life — as his best friends describe it — and death.

Members of the crowd comfort each other during speeches at the action in Brooklyn on Friday.

Maria-Juliana Rojas for Rolling Stone

Ever since Sibley was a child, he had been a skilled dancer. He was a student at Philadanco dance company in Philadelphia and had dreams of performing in The Lion King, his favorite Broadway musical. He had recently been studying at the prestigious Alvin Ailey dance school in Manhattan, furthering his skills in ballet, tap, contemporary, jazz, and his ultimate favorite, vogue.

“He always been a bright light of sunshine,” says Alvernian Du’Mure, Sibley’s “grandfather” from the House of Du’Mure-Versailles. Sibley and Du’Mure had known one another since 2013, when Du’Mure’s ran an after-hours club in Philly, hosting monthly vogue nights. “Even when you were mad at him, you couldn’t stay mad because he was always smiling and full of laughter and joy,” Du’Mare says. “He had an innocence about him.”

Sibley was the life of the party, dancing to the beat of his own strut. “O’Shae was a goofball,” says Juanna. “Everyone would be bussin it wide open in the club, twerking, he’s the only one doing pirouettes, with his leg in the air. Like, ‘Sir! It’s not giving that!’ But he was very spiritual and grounded, he was into the stars and the moon and its alignments. Every time, I’d say, ‘Here you go, you Namaste ass bitch.’”

Sibley had won a few balls, where he vogued, while also being eager to learn the ballroom scene in its entirety. His ambitions led him to try out numerous categories of competitions like All American Runway and Realness, which Du’Mure describes as a category in which its contestants compete on who is the most “unclockable” to the cis-hetero gaze. 

“O’Shae reminded me of what I wanted to be,” says Kemar Jewel, a Black queer professional director and choreographer. Sibley and Jewel met through the dance circuit as teenagers in Philadelphia. Although Jewel was only two years older than Sibley, Sibley called him “uncle” due to the mentorship Jewel provided in navigating dance and life as a Black queer man. “O’Shae was so excited to dance. He wanted to take classes and learn new things. He had this energy about him that was a willingness to learn and to work.”

Sibley had been an instrumental part in Jewel’s 2021 project SOFT, which was a modern contemporary style dance video, where Sibley danced alongside some of his best friends like Pena and Malik Berry. It was a love letter to feminine Black gay males, who experience outsized trauma and violence in society. he project was inspired by the 2017 murder of 14-year old Giovanni Melton, who was killed by his father for being gay. 

O’Shae Sibley and friend and fellow dancer Lik Uchiha.

Courtesy of Malik Berry

“O’Shae really helped me bring SOFT to life and he co-choreographed the video as well,” says Jewel. “I’ve done eight videos and O’Shae was in six of them; he was an incredible performer and very professional. When the camera was off he was jumping around and being silly, but once you said ‘Action’ he was ready to go.”

On the day of Sibley’s memorial at the Center, his siblings from Philadelphia are just getting to New York after landing from a family vacation to Disney World. “He was supposed to come with us on Tuesday,” says his brother Safyaan Kelly, who is older than Sibley by three months. “We still went to celebrate his life because we know that he wouldn’t have wanted us to not go. He was the type of person that if he got sick, he would say ‘still go,’ so we had fun for him.” 

Sibley was the middle child of 11 and was what his siblings describe as goofy but a grounding force in their lives. “He was the peacemaker amongst the siblings,” says Destineh Kelly, Sibley’s younger sister. “He always wanted to fight me,” chimes in Safyaan, laughing. “It was fun having O’Shae as a little brother. He was always stealing my sneakers. We went to Miami a few years back and I left the room and came back and he had on my sneakers, again. I was like ‘what’s good with you, bro?”

ON FRIDAY, THE DAY BEFORE Sibley’s memorial, the suspect in Sibley’s murder — who is reported to be 17 years old — turned himself in. The day of the surrender, supporters of Sibley gather at the Mobil to protest and vogue as demonstrations against the steady violence towards the LGBTQ community. As Beyoncé’s “I Was Here,” plays from the speakers, Qween Jean, a transgender activist, speaks to the crowd, stating “Voguing is not a crime!” Following activists speeches, voguing commences in the middle of the street as the crowd chants O’Shae’s name.  The next morning, at the same Mobil, city officials held a press conference. NYPD assistant chief Joe Kenny of the NYPD Detective Bureau said that although there was a group who verbally attacked Sibley and his friends, the suspect in custody will be the only one charged at this time. “Based on our investigation, the group did start to disappear but the defendant stayed unfortunately and stabbed the victim,” Kenny said.

Supporters from the community vogue in the streets of Brooklyn on Friday.

Maria-Juliana Rojas for Rolling Stone

While relieved that the alleged killer is off the streets, family, friends and community are still concerned with the larger picture of homophobia.

“What I hate most about the situation is that he got killed for being who he was as a person, which is a peacemaker,” says Destineh, who is Muslim. “My faith doesn’t hate or think any other person or religion is above or beneath Islam.” Sibley grew up Christian but according to his family, always had their acceptance. “We were supportive and we never judged him about how he dressed or who he was as a person,” says Destineh. “So for somebody to take his life away because he was standing up for who he was as a person is sad.” 

Violence against the LGBTQ community is prevalent. In a report from June 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the rate of violence amongst gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons over the age of 16 was more than two times (43.5 per 1,000 persons) the rate of heterosexual-identifying people. The rate of violence against transgender persons was even higher, being 2.5 times (51.5 per 1,000 persons) the rate of cisgender persons. 

“I’m a drag queen,” Juanna says. “But a lot of people think I’m a transwoman, so my life is in danger just walking outside.”


On Saturday, as the sun sets over the Hudson River, family and friends set up a poster of Sibley, placing candles next to it and tea lights in the front spelling out the name “O’Shae.” Those who gathered at West 13th clap and chant Sibley’s name. The chant garners looks from those on the street but eventually leads to a circle of voguers on the pier who pirouette into a dip to the sound of the last syllable in “O’Shae.” There are tears but there’s also a playful energy in the air. The wind is blowing, making it either impossible to light the lanterns or burning them entirely too much and too close to a few people’s heads and fingers. “We should’ve looked at the instructions first,” someone yells, which causes a fit of laughter.

A few lanterns go down towards the river, and Pena calls out to the crowd to encourage the lanterns to fly high. The crowd cheers on the lanterns and surprisingly, amid the chants of “O’Shae,” it seems to work. O’Shae’s best friend and fellow dancer from SOFT, Malik Berry, does a split into a pose and starts a sequence of vogueing that lasts well into the night. Prynce Pedro, an artist and model in community with Sibley, breaks out in a new vogue chant: “Fly up in the sky / What?/ I really want to fly/ you gonna fly, bitch, you gonna fly.”