PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office deputy and the LGBTQ community liaison was found dead at his desk on Friday morning. Officials believe Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin, 27, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but they are awaiting confirmation from the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Sheriff Jewell Williams called it “a tragedy for the Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Austin’s family and the local LGBTQ community.”
Leaders say Austin joined the sheriff’s department in 2013 as the first openly gay deputy sheriff. He was later promoted to the role of LGBTQ community liaison in 2017.
“Dante was a person who believed in and cared about everybody,”Williams said. “He had the highest score on the Deputy Sheriff’s exam when he was hired in November 2013. He was our first openly gay deputy sheriff and we promoted him to become our first LGBTQ community liaison in May 2017.”
Austin, who was an Army veteran, was to be promoted to sergeant on July 1.
Austin did work with Michael Grossberg for the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, an organization that provides funding to LGBT nonprofits.
“I think the LGBT community in Philadelphia has struggled with issues of race and issues of equality and having leaders like Dante in our community was really fundamental,” Grossberg said.
As the city prepares for another pride festival this weekend, the community wants Austin to be remembered not as a statistic, but a force in the community.
“We are looking to have a pride weekend that would be an honor to his great legacy,” Chris Bartlett said.
The William Way LGBT Community Center is providing support to those who need it following Austin’s death. Peer counseling will be available at the center, located at 1315 Spruce St., from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.
“It will be an informal gathering with no agenda or program, but it will be an opportunity to be amongst friends, seek support, and begin to imagine how we will process this deep loss in a fitting way,” the center said.
The rainbow flag at Philadelphia’s City Hall will be flown at half-staff in Austin’s memory.
“Dante worked tirelessly, always, to lift up the most marginalized among us, to secure safety and protection for the most vulnerable, and to serve his community with unparalleled dedication and a warmth and generosity that moved so many of us. Dante’s legacy is one of boldness, bravery, compassion, and an unfailing commitment to a kinder and more just world for all. As we move forward in mourning and honoring our friend and colleague, may we cherish and celebrate the ways he changed us, improved our city, and protected and saved lives,” the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs said in a statement.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please ask for help. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text “talk” to 741-741.
CBS3’s Crystal Cranmore contributed to this report.