Dalila Ali Rajah
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Florida City Elects High School Teacher as Its First Out Mayor

Tyler Penserga

While Florida state senators in Tallahassee voted in favor of the controversial “don’t say gay” bill, on the opposite side of the state, an out politician in Boynton Beach was elected mayor.

Penserga will be the first out mayor of the city as well as the first out LGBTQ+ Asian-American mayor elected in Florida state history, according to the Victory Fund.

“This is a surreal moment for me,” Ty Penserga told supporters following his win, South Florida Gay News reports. “What you have taught me and what you have given me is an opportunity to fight for all of you. This is the opportunity to do the work.”

The 33-year-old has previously served as vice mayor. He was elected to the Boynton Beach commission in 2020.

During his campaign, Penserga dealt with homophobic comments from Bernard Wright, who was also running for mayor. Wright said on Facebook Live, “I ain’t with the LGBT.” He later said that Penserga wanted to make Boynton Beach a “gay city.”

South Florida Gay News reports that Penserga won the race with 57 percent of the vote. Wright came in last with 6 percent.

“In this room, there are people from all parts of the political spectrum, whether you’re a community activist, whether you’re a radio talk show host, whether you are a businessperson, whether you are a community leader in the LGBTQ community, whatever it is this campaign has brought together so many people and I am so proud of all of you,” Penserga said Tuesday at his victory party. “There is more we have in common than separates us. Most of us are not just one thing, or one category, we cross boundaries. Those are real people with real stories like many of you.”

The mayor-elect also discussed how his experience as an Asian-American has shaped his dedication to his community.

“When I was in college my friends and their siblings were getting attacked. And they were Asian-Americans. We did not know why we were being attacked. Whether they were waiting at the subway, or at the grocery store. We were afraid and we felt powerless. Nobody was there to fight for us. Where are the protests? Who’s going to City Hall? We didn’t have anyone. That’s where my story began,” Penserga explained. “I realized that not only did I need to build myself up, but I needed to build others up to create a leadership pipeline. We need to build a community of leaders.”

In response to Penserga’s win, Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, released a statement highlighting the hope that Penserga’s win represents.

“While legislators in Tallahassee were trying to silence us, voters were making their voices heard at the ballot box. And with resounding enthusiasm, they chose equality,” Parker said. “Not only did Ty shatter a lavender ceiling in Boynton Beach tonight, his election is a clear call of hope to LGBTQ people in Florida and across the country who are tirelessly battling legislatures bent on stripping away our basic human rights and freedoms.”

The organization notes there are only three other out mayors in Florida.

Penserga is a high school science teacher. During his celebration party on Tuesday, several of his students from Suncoast Community High School came out to support him, according to South Florida Gay News.

“The one thing I can tell you is he leads the class. He knows how to communicate with the students. He makes really good relationships with all of us. He's an advocate for us and I think he's going to be a really good advocate for Boynton Beach as well,” Matthew Lind, 16, told the outlet.

“He's really understanding with his students. And I feel like he just explains things really well. I think that he would be a good representative,” said Kaylin Portieles, 17. 

Tags: Politics, Florida

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