Activists warn fired Largo city manager could end up transgender champion
By PHIL DAVIS
Posted February 28 2007, 3:45 PM EST
LARGO -- Steve Stanton loved this city he ran for 14 years. This week, he asked
the city to love him back -- to accept his plans to pursue sex-change operation
and let him keep his $140,000 job as city manager.
Almost 500 people packed into City Hall Tuesday night for a special meeting to
decide if they would accept Susan instead of Steve as their top official.
And while many spoke eloquently in his defense, more called for his ouster.
``If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated,''
said Pastor Ron Saunders of Largo's Lighthouse Baptist Church. ``Make no mistake
At the end of the 3-½ hour meeting, the City Commission voted 5-2 to begin the
legal process of firing Stanton, only a week after he was forced to reveal his
secret by a local newspaper. He is on paid leave while the city begins the legal
process to end his contract. He can appeal and the commission must vote again to
formally fire him.
Transgender activists on Wednesday called Stanton's firing a ``shameful display
of ignorance and bias.'' But they suggested Largo's quick decision to fire a
respected government official may be the anecdote they need to convince Congress
to extend employment protections to gays, lesbians and transsexuals.
``We think this is a really clear example of the type of employment
discrimination that transgendered people face every day,'' said Simon Aronoff,
deputy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington,
D.C. ``By all accounts, he was doing a good job. The only reason he was fired is
because he made the brave decision to live openly.''
Mathew Staver, founder of the conservative Liberty Counsel legal group, said the
city had a duty to reconsider the employment of a top official planning such a
``The city hasn't changed the work environment. He has changed the work
environment,'' Staver said. ``He has to take into consideration the consequences
of that personal decision. I think it would be more difficult for the city to
retain this person because of how it might undermine the representation of the
city in the eyes of the community. It could become very awkward.''
The vote to oust Stanton came only a day after a Christian university in
Michigan fired a male professor living as a woman only days after she legally
changed her name to something more feminine. The university claims the former
John Nemecek did not honor the terms of her contract.
``I think they decided to terminate me rather than call me Julie,'' said
Nemecek, an ordained Baptist minister who worked for 16 years on the faculty of
Spring Arbor University. Both sides are scheduled to be in court ordered
mediation in March. Despite such high-profile setbacks, Aronoff said the
transgender movement is gaining ground.
``We think this is our year,'' he said.
Last summer, a judge ruled a Westchester, N.Y., cook who claims he was fired
from an upscale restaurant because he was a woman living as a man was covered by
the state's human rights law, even though it doesn't mention sexual orientation.
The ruling cleared the way for a $3 million discrimination lawsuit to proceed.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which also lobbies for gay, lesbian and
transgendered rights, estimates 10 states and more than 90 local governments
have included gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies.
Stanton supported a similar ordinance in Largo in 2003, but the fact he kept his
personal life a secret then intensified the anger directed at him Tuesday night.
Many in the crowd accused him of harboring a hidden agenda.
``I do not feel he has the integrity, nor the trust, nor the respect, nor the
confidence to continue as the city manager of the city of Largo,'' said
Commissioner Mary Gray Black, who introduced a resolution to fire Stanton.
Stanton listened with hands clasped throughout the 3½ hour meeting.
``It's just real painful to know that seven days ago I was a good guy and now I
have no integrity, I have no trust and most painful, I have no followers,''
Stanton told the crowd before the commission voted. ``Hopefully after all this
is behind us, we'll be better for it.''
The surprise announcement stunned this city of 76,000 near St. Petersburg.
Stanton said he had planned to reveal his secret this summer when his
13-year-old son was out of school.
Stanton, who is married, said he struggled with his secret desire to be a woman
since childhood and hoped to ``outrun it.'' In 2003, he began counseling to deal
with his feelings and ultimately decided to pursue a sex-change operation. He
has not yet scheduled the surgery, but is undergoing counseling and hormone
replacement therapy in preparation for the operation.
``I'm going to be embarrassed if we throw this man out on the trash heap after
he's worked so hard for the city,'' said Mayor Patricia Gerard, one of a few
Stanton chose to share his secret with before last week. ``We have a choice to
make: We can go back to intolerance, or we can be the city of progress.''
Commissioner Gay Gentry praised Stanton, but supported his firing.
``I sense that he has lost his standing as a leader among the employees of the
city,'' Gentry said. ``We have need of an organizational leader that employees
Stanton left the room before the votes were cast, head down.
Gerard and Commissioner Rodney J. Woods _ the first black commissioner in the
city's 102-year history _ cast the only votes in his favor.
On the Net: City of Largo - http://www.largo.com/