When I was in high school my twin sister and our friends and I liked to “parking lot dance party” — and, yes, I am using that entire phrase as a verb because we didn’t GO to parking lot dance parties. We created them. The rules were silly and simple. My sister or I would drive our big red mini van (nicknamed the “Big Red Bitch”) to a parking lot. Everyone would pile out and we’d open all of the doors and the back hatch and blast whatever song was playing. Everybody danced for at least one full song and then we’d pile back in and drive to a different parking lot and repeat. I remember that the local Big Lots parking lot was a favorite because it was big and not very crowded.
This was pre-internet so we did not take videos of these events and put them online. It was just harmless fun.
I think of my time parking lot dance partying when I read about the murder of O’Shae Sibley, a man who was stabbed to death when he and his friends were dancing in the parking lot of a Mobil gas station on the night of July 29.
Various reports state that Sibley, a professional dancer, and his friends were voguing to a Beyoncé song. A group of men approached them and, according to The Advocate, shouted “antigay slurs at Sibley and his friends.”
A fight broke out and Sibley was stabbed in the abdomen.
The person who stabbed him? A 17-year-old. A kid the same age I was during my parking lot dance party days.
Granted, Sibley’s death would be horrific no matter the age of his killer. But the fact that it was a kid adds another layer of horror.
At a time when younger generations are increasingly more accepting of LGBTQ+ people, there is also a dramatic uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from Republican leaders and religious conservatives across the country. We’ve got conservative lawmakers trying to ban drag shows under the guise that drag performers are sexual predators against children. We’ve got a Supreme Court that just ruled that it’s OK for a business to refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people. The state of Florida is hellbent on making sure that schools don’t teach anything about gender or sexuality (or about Black history, for that matter). Sibley’s murder cannot be divorced from this context.
“There are reports that Sibley was vogueing to a track from Beyoncé’s Renaissance album, music from the biggest pop star in the world celebrating Black queer people,” Darian Aaron, GLAAD Director of Local News, U.S. South, said in a statement. “O’Shae Sibley had the audacity to live without the restraints of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, embracing freedom and joy. He should still be alive to celebrate all that made him great and inspired others to live their truth.”
Instead, he’s dead. Because his dancing made a group of young men feel threatened. They could not stand to see a man who was not trapped in the same toxic prisons they themselves lived in. He was beautiful. So they killed him. Because they had been taught that beauty is weakness. They had been lied to. And those lies were deadly.
And yet these lies get repeated over and over in the media under the guise of balanced coverage.
“GLAAD urges media to challenge harmful rhetoric, report on LGBTQ lives accurately and inclusively, and elevate our humanity and right to live in peace and safety,” Aaron continued. “Politicians spewing lies and proposing policies filled with disinformation, and media repeating their false and dangerous rhetoric unchallenged, are creating an incredibly hostile environment that endangers all LGBTQ people and all queer people of color.”
In fact, it endangers everyone. You don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to be in danger. All you have to do is to not conform to the rigid gender roles conservatives consider sacrosanct.
“We must never believe that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is ‘just politics’ — it’s hate and it has devastating consequences,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson tweeted. “O’Shae should still be here today. He should still be dancing and laughing and having fun with his friends. I’m sending so much love to his friends and family.”
I want to believe that love will win over hate. I have to believe it. The alternative is too much to bear. But some days it’s really fucking hard.
D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.