Mayor of Wilton Manors, Florida city with all-LGBTQ council, dies at 41

Justin Flippen, mayor of Wilton Manors, died suddenly Tuesday night of a brain aneurysm, shocking the historically gay-inclusive South Florida city.
Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen
The late Wilton Manors Mayor Justin FlippenJustin Flippen via Facebook
By Tim Fitzsimons

Justin Flippen, the mayor of Wilton Manors, Florida, and a longtime LGBTQ advocate, died Tuesday night of a brain aneurysm.

He was 41.

"This is a horrible loss for our community,” Wilton Manors’ city officials said in a statement shared with NBC 6 South Florida. "We are very sad. Our hearts go out to Justin's family and friends.”

Flippen had been mayor for only two years, but even prior to his election, he was a trailblazer. He was Florida’s first openly gay student body president when he studied at Florida Atlantic University. He served in multiple roles in the Democratic Party, including as a delegate at the 2008 convention in Denver, and officiated over 40 same-sex weddings after they became legal nationally in 2015. Flippen also pushed to have Wilton Manors become the first city to permanently raise an LGBTQ pride flag in 2015.

Tributes poured in from across Florida — and beyond.

“Justin had a passion for public service and was helping lead a new generation of LGBT leaders in the greater Fort Lauderdale community,” tweeted Dean Trantalis, the openly gay mayor of neighboring Fort Lauderdale. “He will be deeply missed.”

“Like all of us who knew him, I am devastated by the news of Justin Flippen’s passing,” U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, whose congressional district includes Wilton Manors, tweeted. “Justin was a fine public servant, a wonderful person, and a dear friend. My thoughts are with his family as we all mourn this tragic loss. May Justin rest in peace.”

The Pride Center, a Wilton Manors LGBTQ organization, said it was “deeply saddened” by Flippen’s death.

“Justin led by example, serving those around him and advocating passionately for the marginalized in our communities,” the center said in a statement. “Our city and our community were better because of his hard work, insight, compassion, humor, service and dedication. He will be deeply missed.”

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted that he is “saddened” by Flippen’s death, saying the mayor was “encouraging and kind whenever we saw him.”

“My prayers go out to his family, loved ones, and the city of Wilton Manors,” Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, wrote. “Our communities owe so much to public servants like Justin.”

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, now the president and CEO of the Victory Fund, which endorses LGBTQ candidates for office and backed Flippen’s run for mayor, said that she was texting him just last week about his re-election, “and he was upbeat and feeling great about his chances.”

“It is heartbreaking to know such an accomplished, thoughtful and promising young man is no longer with us, and his leadership on equality in Wilton Manors and beyond will not be forgotten,” Parker said. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends today.”

Flippen leaves a seat vacant on the all-LGBTQ city council in Wilton Manors, a historically gay-friendly city. Voters in the Broward County city made Florida history in 2018 when they elected the council. Palm Springs, California, was the first municipality to do so in the country.

Just north of Fort Lauderdale, Wilton Manors has the second highest rate of same-sex couples in the U.S., behind Provincetown, Massachusetts, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which used data from the 2010 U.S. census in its research. According to the institute’s report, Wilton Manors has 125 gay couples per 1,000 households. San Francisco, for comparison, has just 30.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, last year again awarded Wilton Manors a perfect score of 100 on its latest annual Municipal Equality Index, which uses 49 criteria to measure how inclusive a community is for its LGBTQ residents and visitors.

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Alexander Kacala contributed.