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Tuesday started off as a dark moment in the state’s history when the Florida Senate passed the “Don’t Say Gay” but by the end of the day there was a bright spot for the community in Boynton Beach when voters elected, by a landslide, an out mayor.

“This is a surreal moment for me,” Ty Penserga told his supporters during his victory speech at a local brewery in Boynton Beach. “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.”

Penserga, 33, was elected to the Boynton Beach commission in 2020. He also served as vice mayor.

The campaign was marred by homophobia when another candidate, Rev. Bernard Wright, went on Facebook in January where he said “I ain’t with the LGBT” and accused Penserga of wanting to make Boynton Beach a “gay city.”

Penserga won the election with 57% of the vote. The next two candidates received 18% while Wright came in last with 6%.

“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 business person, 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. “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.”

Penserga also noted his experience as an Asian American.

“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 said. “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.”

The same day Penserga was elected Florida’s senate passed the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill which ban discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in lower grades or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Victory Fund, a national organization that supports LGBT candidates, released a statement celebrating Penserga’s victory.

“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,” said Annise Parker, president & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “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.”

According to the Victory Fund there are currently only three LGBT mayors in Florida: Jane Castor in Tampa; Teri Johnston in Key West; and Dean Trantalis in Fort Lauderdale. Penserga, who was born in the Philippines, is the only person of color.

Penserga is the sixth out person in Palm Beach County elected mayor.

"Over the past two decades, lesbians and gay men have served as mayors in five out of Palm Beach County's 39 municipalities," Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance, said in a statement. "At least 10 more openly LGBTQ people in Palm Beach County have served as vice mayors, city commissioners and city council members."

The other five out mayors were Denise Bleau of Lantana; Tom Gerrard of Manalapan; Betty James of Cloud Lake; and Myra Koutzen of Palm Beach Shores. Boynton Beach is the most populated of those cities. With 78,000 people it’s the third most populous in the county.

Penserga graduated from Temple University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology. He is currently a High School Biology and Chemistry teacher.

Several of his students from Suncoast Community High School showed up to his victory party to celebrate.

“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,” said Matthew Lind, 16. While Kaylin Portieles, 17, added, “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.”


'Don't Say Gay' Bill Passes Senate