A rainbow flag flew at half-mast on Wednesday in the affluent suburb of Wilton Manors, Florida. The town’s mayor, Justin Flippen — who was openly gay and part of a history-making group of city leaders — died suddenly on Tuesday night from a brain aneurysm, according to the Broward Medical Examiner. He was 41.
Flippen, who was engaged to be married, was a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community. After his mayoral election in 2018, Wilton Manors, which is just a few miles north of Fort Lauderdale, became only the second city in the country to have all LGBTQ elected officials.
The mayor’s work impressed politicians both locally and nationwide.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigeig, a former mayor himself, tweeted, “I’m saddened by the loss of Mayor @justinflippen,
who was so encouraging and kind whenever we saw him. My prayers go out to his family, loved ones, and the city of Wilton Manors. Our communities owe so much to public servants like Justin.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose district previously included Wilton Manors, posted a tribute to Flippen on Facebook.
“Justin Flippen represented everything that is good about public service. He was a leader of his generation and passionate about Wilton Manors, the city he loved,” she wrote. “Our community suffered a tremendous loss with Justin’s passing. He was genuine and compassionate and committed to strengthening his community and standing up for equality, putting his heart and soul in everything he did. I was so proud to watch him grow as a leader from his days as a Young Democrat to watching him realize his dream of becoming Mayor of his city. I will miss him and mourn his loss with his community, family and friends.”
Wilton Manors is also home to Project Runway winner Sebastian Grey, who lives there with his husband.
Flippen recently congratulated the designer on Facebook for his fall show, writing then: “Because when your neighbors and residents succeed, it is worth the whole community and neighborhood celebrating! Bravo Sebastian Grey! #WiltonManors is proud of you!”
A native of Broward County, Flippen was raised in a Christian fundamentalist home and endured straight “conversion therapy” when he was younger.
Speaking openly about his experience helped to pass a gay conversion therapy ban in Broward. He once told the South Florida Gay News, “I had an epiphany one day that the church has been wrong about a lot of things in its history…women, slavery, and gay people. Church theology has clearly been wrong about these issues.”
A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and the University of Florida Law School, Flippen became Florida’s first openly gay student body president while at FAU. He began his career as an executive aide at Broward County Government and, in 2008, he was elected city commissioner for Wilton Mayors. (His brother Nick died in 2001 from a motorcycle accident.)
Flipped ran for the House of Representatives in 2010 and lost. He was again elected to the city commission in 2014, where he moved up to vice mayor and eventually mayor. He also worked at a Tourism Project Manager for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
He was running for re-election in 2020 and was expected to win.
Upon his 2018 victory, he told NBC News, “In Wilton Manors, our goal is to serve as an example for other cities across the nation on how a municipality and community can prosper from being inclusive and accepting from policy to practice. Wilton Manors is a city where whatever color under the rainbow you most identify with, you are welcomed, affirmed and respected for who you are.”
Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Sun-Sentinel that “Justin was a great kid. I’ve watched him grow up from a 20-something legislative aide to the mayor of Wilton Manors. He was engaged. He was getting married. He was so full of hope for the future. I’m just devastated.”
Flippen was reportedly on his way to do the work he loved best when he passed. Commissioner Gary Resnick told the Sun-Sentinel, “We were notified that Justin apparently was on his way to the City Commission meeting and they had to rush him to the hospital and he passed away at the hospital.”
Wilton Manor officials issued an official statement on Wednesday morning, saying, “This is a sad and difficult time for our grieving city and community as we mourn the passing of Mayor Justin Flippen. … His death was a shock to us all, and we ask that you allow City staff to work through those details.”
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