mr. mayor

Ty Penserga’s historic mayoral win made Florida even gayer

Step aside, Pete Buittigieg. There’s a new mayor in town, and his name is Ty Penserga.

On March 8, Penserga was elected mayor of Boynton Beach in Florida, making him the first openly gay mayor of the city as well as the first out LGBTQ Asian American mayor elected in Florida state history, according to the Victory Fund. Did we mention he’s also a high school biology and chemistry teacher? We love a STEM moment!

“This is a surreal moment for me,” Penserga told his supporters following his historic win. “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.”

Of course, Penserga’s win wasn’t totally smooth sailing. Just hours earlier on March 8, the Florida Senate passed the infamously homophobic “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which ban discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

During the campaign Penserga was also the subject of homophobic remarks from his rival, Bernard Wright, who was also running for mayor.

In a Facebook Live before the election, Wright declared “I ain’t with the LGBT,” before warning voters that Penserga wanted to make Boynton Beach a “gay city.” (Which hey, what’s wrong with that?!)

Of course, Penserga didn’t take too many of these comments to heart. After his win (where he cinched 57% of the vote), the mayor-to-be thanked his fellow community members, no matter where they fell on the political spectrum.

“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,” he 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 spoke to his experiences as an Asian American, and how he often felt powerless in his younger years.

“When I was in college my friends and their siblings were getting attacked. And they were Asian Americans,” he said.

“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,” he 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.”

Penserga is living proof that not everything about Florida is awful, and we can’t wait to see what he is able to accomplish as mayor after his history-making win. God knows his experiences as an openly gay, Asian American man is exactly what the state needs right now.

We’re proud of Penserga for fighting the good fight, and not letting homophobic bills and people stop him from making The Sunshine State a little brighter.

Now if only he can rename Boynton Beach to “Gay City,” we’ll be very happy campers. Welcome to the Pride 50, Ty!

Pride50Welcome to Queerty’s Pride50. We’re celebrating the members from our community who are responsible for some of the most inspiring and extraordinary moments for LGBTQ people over the last year. See all the honorees