Justin Flippen, the gay man and longtime activist who was mayor of the heavily LGBTQ city of Wilton Manors, Fla., died Tuesday at age 41.
"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," Commissioner Gary Resnick told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The cause of death appears to be a massive heart attack, Miami's NBC affiliate reports, although the Broward County medical examiner will make an official determination.
Flippen was first elected to the commission in 2010 but left to run for Florida House. He did not win the House seat but returned to the commission and was elected mayor in 2018, when it became one of the few cities in the country to have all LGBTQ elected officials. A native of Broward County, he was a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, where he was the first openly gay student body president. In addition to his political career, he worked for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Tributes to Flippen are pouring in. "In shock and disbelief, Equality Florida joins our fellow Floridians in grieving the death of Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen," said a statement issued by Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
"In his career with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Justin worked hard to bring tourists to his city often touted as the '2nd gayest city in America,'" she continued. "He advocated in Tallahassee for his city and the LGBTQ community statewide. ... We will miss our friend and we will miss his persistent voice for equality."
"Justin Flippen represented everything that is good about public service," U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose district included Wilton Manors until boundaries were redrawn, told the Sun Sentinel. "He was a leader of his generation and passionate about Wilton Manors, the city he loved. 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."
"Justin was a great kid," Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the paper. "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."
Wilton Manors city officials issued a statement saying, "We are very sad. Our hearts go out to Justin's family and friends. This is a horrible loss for our community." Resnick, who preceded him as mayor, told the Sun Sentinel that Flippen "was a very well-loved guy, and this is horrible."
A makeshift memorial has been set up at Wilton Manors City Hall, where flags, including the LGBTQ Pride flag, are flying at half-staff. The city is planning a memorial service.