LGBTQ&A: Dante Austin

The openly gay deputy sheriff officer and member of GOAL speaks about his new LGBT liaison role.

Dante Austin

Dante Austin

Dante Austin, 24, has been an openly gay deputy sheriff officer with the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office for nearly three years. We caught up with him to get his thoughts on being a part of the Greater Philadelphia Gay Officer Action League (GOAL) and on his new role as LGBT liaison for the Sheriff’s Office.

What’s something most people wouldn’t know about you when they first see you in your uniform?
When I was 17 years old, I enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and was honorably discharged this past February. Having served in the military under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I knew I was not going to allow myself to be closeted in my law-enforcement career. I’ve been open about my sexuality from my very first interview with the Sheriff’s Office, and I made sure to stay “out” throughout my career. With law enforcement and the military being so masculine-driven, it’s not exactly the easiest thing to “come out” for most officers. I know what it’s like to be closeted, and have that fear of “coming out.” I also know what it’s like to take that step out the closet and then be ostracized for it. Although I had a rough time with the military, I’ve felt very comfortable here at the Sheriff’s Office. Being confident in my authentic self is so important, and I hope to see other officers do the same.

What is it like being an LGBTQ deputy sheriff of color?
Being a deputy sheriff of color doesn’t make me a minority or really make me different on the job at all. The Sheriff’s Office is very diverse, and we have various ethnicities represented in the office. Aside from that, I’m biracial anyway. My mom is white and my dad is black, so I’ve always looked at it as I have the “best of both worlds.” Being gay, on the other hand, is quite an experience. Although I am currently the only openly gay officer, the office has been extremely supportive. From my partners I work with on a daily basis to the sergeants and lieutenants who supervise me, I’ve received nothing but respect, and we really are all like a family. The majority of the officers have been very open-minded, and I’m constantly informing everyone on LGBT culture. From the significance of Pride to the spectrum of sexuality in our community, I’m able to educate a lot of people on a demographic they don’t know much about.

You’re a member of GOAL, which has been in the news lately after the recent controversy pertaining to Philly Pride. Looking back, what do you think the organization learned from that moment?
I think the controversy surrounding GOAL in Philly Pride was a learning experience for everyone. Straight law-enforcement officers, LGBT community members, and then the overlap of the two, GOAL officers, all learned a lot. A lot of people deny the fact that there is this gap between law enforcement and the LGBT community. After the announcement of GOAL as grand marshals, there were articles and articles surrounding the controversy, and I think it made the gap very apparent. At first, I didn’t think too much of it, but as I saw how passionate some people were about our removal, I was taken aback, as many GOAL members were. Although there were people who opposed GOAL’s involvement in the parade, we received a ton of support as well, which was awesome!

You just been appointed one of the first LGBT liaisons for the county sheriff’s office. What are you looking forward to the most in this new role?
I am definitely looking forward to implementing community outreach from the Sheriff’s Office to the LGBT community. Community policing is very important! All law-enforcement agencies should strive to build strong relationships with their respective communities in their entirety. I strongly believe society should see law enforcement in positive situations and not just when they have contact with “the system.” Communities like the LGBT population are particularly important. I know from hearing community members’ personal experiences that law enforcement doesn’t always “get it right.” A lot of times they can be insensitive to particular issues, and I think education is key. With the right people on the job, I think we can make a lot of differences and create a huge impact.

What is one thing you want the LGBTQ community to know about Philly law enforcement’s efforts to improve relations?
I really want the LGBTQ community to know that we are seriously trying. Although I will admit there is a ton of work that needs to be done, I can legitimately say that effort is being made. The Philadelphia Police Department has its own LGBT liaison committee, where both officers and civilians here in Philadelphia discuss LGBT concerns. The Philadelphia sheriff, Jewell Williams, has been extremely supportive of my desire to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the LGBT community. With his support, he has given me a platform where I can implement some changes. As the LGBT liaison, I’m able to work closely with the LGBT community as a deputy sheriff officer. The liaison position also gives me an opportunity to really educate my fellow law-enforcement officers on LGBT concerns, as I am a part of this community as well.