On February 25, 2020, former Wilton Manors Mayor and Florida Atlantic University alum Justin Flippen died of a brain aneurysm. He was 41.
When Flippen was elected as FAU’s student body president, he became the first openly gay student body president in the state of Florida.
This was 20 years ago, long before marriage equality and other major LGBT milestones over the past two decades. Before college though Flippen struggled with his sexuality and went so far as to attend two years of Christian reparative therapy with Exodus International affiliated ministries.
“Finally after two years I had an epiphany: I was made in the image and likeness of a loving creator. And that included being gay as much as being male with blue eyes and blond hair,” Flippen told FAU Library’s “Generations” project. “Furthermore there’s been many times in the church’s history that they have been wrong on issues of social import, from debating the status of women to the issue of slavery. Homosexuality happens to be just one of them they can add to the list.”
Michael Koretzky, the former adviser to FAU’s student newspaper, still fondly remembers Flippen’s time at the university.
“It wasn't necessarily that Justin was gay — it was that he was proud to be gay,” Koretzky said. “I can't tell you how much that rankled certain FAU students in the years right around 2000.”
After graduating from FAU in 2000, Flippen took part in the University of Florida Law Program where he earned a law degree in 2004.
However, Flippen is most well-known for his time as the mayor of Wilton Manors. He was elected in 2018 after serving as a city commissioner. He was first elected to the city commission in 2008, then unsuccessfully ran for the statehouse in 2010. He later returned to the city commission in 2014. He styled himself as the “The People’s Mayor.”
His life was celebrated by many, including United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and former democratic gubernatorial candidate and mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum. The two politicians tweeted their sentiments after learning of his sudden death.
Soon after this death Our Fund Foundation created the Justin Flippen Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor Flippen’s legacy.
“Our Fund Foundation is honored to administer the Justin Flippen Memorial Fund which will help prepare future generations of leaders [to] follow in the footsteps of Justin’s thoughtful and passionate public service,” President and CEO of Our Fund Foundation David Jobin said.
In order to pay tribute to Flippen, the first recipient of the scholarship, Emily Miranda, was announced Feb. 22.
Miranda is a political science major at FAU who often gives back to her community through service. She is passionate about political activism and social justice as well.
“Ignorance serves as the fuel for gaps in social justice and equity and the battle against it is lifelong,” Miranda was quoted as saying in a press release. “It is my honor to receive this scholarship in the name of Justin Flippen as it allows me to take a step further in learning about, confronting, and promoting equality and justice.”
Flippen’s parents believe that Miranda is very deserving of the scholarship.
“The recipient impresses me as she is an honors student in a similar place as Justin was at that time in his life. Justin would feel good about her determination, particularly as a first-generation student,” Stephanie Flippen Chandler said.
The scholarship is not limited to FAU students, but applicants must be seeking to enter public service and majoring in political science or a related field.
“Preference will be given to students exhibiting interest in promoting LGBTQ+ equality,” according to the press release.
Our Fund will continue to raise money for the Memorial Fund so that it can increase the scholarship amount and expand how many future scholarships can be awarded to students.
Flippen died on his way to his twice-monthly city commission meeting.
His death was covered nationally from the Advocate and NBC News to People Magazine.
“This guy dreams big and practical at the same time. Not a lot of college students can do that. I can't tell you how crushing it is to see a practical dreamer die so young,” Koretzky said about Flippen right after his death. “Life isn't fair, but sometimes it's more unfair than usual, and this is one of those times.”
Donations to the Justin Flippen Memorial Fund can be made on the Our Fund website to ensure that more students are able to receive the scholarship in the coming years.
Check out the photos of the Justin Flippen Memorial where family and friends gathered to remember him on our Facebook page.