Justin Flippen, the mayor of Wilton Manors, a small city located just outside Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., that has long been a tourist destination for the LGBTQ community, died suddenly early Tuesday night as he was driving to a meeting of the Wilton Manors City Commission, over which he was scheduled to preside.
Wilton Manors Police Chief Paul O’Connell said Flippen, 41, was taken to a nearby hospital due to a serious “medical issue,” and that he was later pronounced dead at the hospital, according to the South Florida Gay News.
Norm Kent, SFGN’s publisher, told the Washington Blade an SFGN freelance columnist and friend of Flippen’s told authorities he was speaking with Flippen on the phone while Flippen was driving to the Commission meeting and something happened to prompt the columnist and friend to call 911. Kent said authorities told him Flippen appeared to have suffered from a medical condition with no evidence of foul play.
Police Chief Paul O’Connell said Wednesday that the Medical Examiner’s Office determined Flippen died of a brain aneurysm, according to a report in the Sun Sentinel.
SFGN reported that the Wilton Manors City Commission, on which Flippen served in his capacity as mayor, released a statement announcing Flippen’s passing late Tuesday evening.
“We are deeply saddened to share that Mayor Justin Flippen passed away earlier this evening,” the statement says. “We ask that everyone respect Mayor Flippen’s memory, family members, friends, and our entire community that is mourning,” the statement says, adding that city officials would be announcing plans soon “on when and how our community may come together to honor the life and legacy of Mayor Flippen.”
Flippen won election as mayor in 2018 in a local election in which all of the city’s elected officials, including all members of Wilton Manors City Commission, were LGBTQ, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports, making it one of just a few jurisdictions in the country to hold that distinction.
SFGA reports that Flippen was first elected to the Wilton Manors City Commission in November 2008 and selected by fellow commissioners to serve as vice mayor. SFGA says he served on the commission from 2008 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018 before being elected as mayor in 2018.
Media reports show Flippen grew up in Broward County, where Ft. Lauderdale and Wilton Manors are located, and graduated from Broward College, Florida Atlantic University, and the University of Florida Law School. At FAU Flippen won election as student body president, becoming the first openly gay person in Florida to do so, the Sun Sentinel reports.
At the time of his passing Flippen held a full-time job as tourism project manager for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, SFGN reports. The LGBTQ newspaper also reports that Flippen had recently filed papers to run for re-election as mayor.
“He was a good friend of mine, and God, this city is going to miss someone very dear and special,” SFGN quoted former City Commissioner Scott Newton as saying. “It’s a sad day for Wilton Manors. Justin was someone who just believed in Wilton Manors. I just can’t believe he is gone. I don’t understand how this happened,” he told SFGN.
“A progressive voice for social justice has been silenced by a sudden death, leaving us saddened immeasurably,” SFGN publisher Kent said in his own statement. “Justin loved people and politics, living his life every day with grace and guts, high dignity and honorable demeanor,” Kent says in his statement. “Our large gay community has been denied a leader whose light illuminated us all. It falls upon us to keep that torch burning brightly in his honor.”
Annise Parker, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps elect LGBTQ people to public office, called Flippen’s passing a tragic loss to the community.
“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 in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”