Justin Flippen, the mayor of Wilton Manors in Florida and long time LGBTQ activist, died on February 25 at the age of 41. The town of Wilton Manors is located three miles north of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Flippen was elected mayor of the town in January 2018 defeating Boyd Corbin having served as the area’s city commissioner. Flippen was due to stand for reelection in November 2020.
On his official website, Flippen said that he was running “to build upon the good work we have achieved as well as to create a better city for all who call Wilton Manors home.”
Upon his election, Flippen led only the second all LGBT administration of a city in the United States. The other is in Palm Springs, California. Flippen spoke of his pride in his town following his election telling 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.”
Flippen’s first election in Florida came when he was elected city commissioner in Wilton Manors in 2008. He was reelected in 2014. Also in 2008, Flippen served as a Democratic delegate for the State of Florida at the Democratic Convention. In 2010, Flippen made a failed run at the state House of Representatives.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Flippen Died Following a ‘Massive Heart Attack’
Flippen’s sad death was first reported by the Sun-Sentinel on the night of February 25.
Flippen’s predecessor, Commissioner Gary Resnick, told the newspaper, “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.” NBC Miami reports that Flippen’s cause of death was a “massive heart attack.”
2. Flippen Was Florida Atlantic University’s First Openly Gay Student President
Flippen was originally from Broward County and was a graduate of Coconut Creek High School as well as Broward College, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Florida Law School. During his time at Florida Atlantic University, Flippen was the school’s first openly gay student president. Flippen was also the president of the school’s LGBT Democratic club, the Dolphin Democrats, according to his official Wilton Manors government page.
Flippen told 120 Seconds in a December 2018 interview that having lived throughout Broward County, he settled on Wilton manors because of, “the people and my neighbors.” Flippen said that his favorite other areas of South Florida as the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.
After graduation from law school, Flippen interned with U.S. Senator Bob Graham and clerked for Broward County Judge Robert Lee.
Flippen has attributed his political philosophy to Thomas Jefferson citing “Governments are the servants, not the masters, of the people,” as foundational to his principles.
3. Flippen Said That He Was Raised in a ‘Fundamentalist, Conservative Christian Environment’
Flippen was quoted in the past as saying that he was raised in a “fundamentalist, conservative Christian environment.” Flippen added, “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.”
Speaking to the Sun-Sentinel, the president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Stacy Ritter, paid tribute to Flippen. Ritter said, “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 had been Ritter’s campaign aide while she was a state representative.
Florida Congressman Ted Deutch mourned Flippen in a tweet saying, “Like all of us who knew him, I am devastated by the news of Justin Flippen’s passing. 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.”
Fellow representative, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, told the Sun-Sentinel that she had known Flippen for many years and that the late mayor was “one of the best guys” in South Florida. Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen described Flippen as a man of “deep, deep faith,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Flippen was preceded in death by his younger brother, Nicholas. According to his obituary, Nicholas Flippen died in November 2001 at the age of 20. The Sun-Sentinel reported at the time that Nicholas Flippen was riding on his motorcycle when he collided with a pedestrian around 7 p.m. on November 4, 2001. The newspaper said that Nicholas was rushed to North Broward Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
In his 120 Seconds interview, Justin Flippen said that the one person he would bring back from the dead would be his brother.
4. As a Young Adult, Flippen Said That He ‘Voluntarily’ Entered Gay Conversion Therapy
Flippen has spoken in the past about his experiences with gay conversion therapy. In August 2016, Wilton Manors banned the practice of gay conversion therapy for gay and transgender youths in Wilton Manors, the Sun-Sentinel reported at the time. At the time, Flippen told the newspaper that he had himself had volunteered to go through gay conversion therapy in his youth.
Flippen said that he had “incorrectly believed being gay was simply a choice, and that counseling and therapy could reprogram me to be heterosexual. I struggled through some of these exact issues as a young adult. I could not imagine allowing younger minds to be subjected to it.” Flippen said that he went through the practice as a “young adult.” Flippen added his belief that gay conversion therapy does not offer “affirmation and support” but rather leads to “homelessness or even suicide.”
Flippen later elaborated on his experience with gay conversion therapy in an interview with CBS Miami saying, “That’s what was explained to me, that because I was a child and had my parents divorce at a young age, that somehow predisposed me to being gay. Which even saying it out loud makes no sense to me.” Flippen continued saying, “Young people are exposed to depression. Some homes are unaccepting which leads to LGBT homelessness and unfortunately, some suicides.”
5. Flippen Had Endorsed Mayor Peter Buttigieg for President
Flippen endorsed South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg alongside 49 other mayors in the United States in a September 2019 op-ed in USA Today.
The late mayor told 120 Seconds in December 2018 of his admiration for President Barack Obama. Flippen said that he attended Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009 saying, “To attend it was an inspiring and a uniquely-American experience that I’ll never forget.” In the same interview, Flippen said that “Living History” by Hillary Clinton was one of his favorite books, in addition to “The Bible” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
Flippen also said that he would love to travel back to 2016 to “enjoy Obama as president one last time” and that President Donald Trump’s presidency was among his biggest worries.