Ty Penserga, a high school teacher and city commissioner, was elected mayor of Boynton Beach, Florida on Tuesday. He will make history as the first out LGBTQ+ Asian American mayor in Florida.
The 33-year-old mayor-elect won over 57 percent of the vote, according to West Palm Beach TV. He easily defeated three other candidates.
Celebrating his victory, Penserga tweeted, “We did it, together, Boynton Beach!”
During his victory speech, Penserga shared how his Asian American experience shaped him to dedicate himself to public service.
“When I was in college, my friends and their siblings were getting attacked, and they were Asian Americans,” he said, according to Gay Times. “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.”
He continued, “That’s where my story began. 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, an openly homosexual man, will be the first out LGBTQ mayor of Boynton Beach and the only Asian American mayor in the county. There are currently only three out LGBTQ mayors in the state, and none are people of color.
Penserga faced some opposition during the race because of his sexuality. One opponent claimed in a Facebook video, “He wants to make this city a gay city. That’s not Boynton culture.”
According to WPTV, Penserga responded, “It’s embarrassing when they see Boynton Beach and this is what they hear about. This is not what I want for my city. This man does not represent the values of the vast majority of Boynton residents.”
The opponent in question received less than 6 percent of the vote.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, HB 1557, passed the same day as Penserga’s win. The bill prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools.
Annise Parker, CEO and President of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, expressed hopes that Penserga’s leadership will help uplift Florida’s LGBTQ community. “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 wrote in a released statement about the election.
“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 Gay Times reports that while reflecting on his win, Penserga highlighted the ability to create change regardless of identity. “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.”
Boynton Beach’s directory states that Penserga is a “lifelong Floridian, scientist, and educator.” He was born in the Philippines and raised in Palm Beach County before graduating from Temple University in Philadelphia, majoring in chemistry and biology.
Then, he returned to his hometown area to be a high school teacher of chemistry and biology. Even after getting a master’s degree and becoming a successful scientist, he continued to teach high schoolers.
Penserga is also an acclaimed public servant, previously serving as city commissioner, vice mayor, and representative to Palm Beach County’s League of Cities and the Intergovernmental Coordination Forum.
Penserga’s campaign website declares that Penserga’s priorities as mayor will include “enhancing public safety through technology, promoting workforce housing, creating high-paying jobs, reducing taxes, creating a vibrant and exciting downtown, revitalizing the Boynton Beach Mall, and ensuring all parts of our city benefit from our shared success.”
“This is a surreal moment for me,” he said as he rejoiced over the election results, according to Yahoo! News. “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.”
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