Largo official plans sex change
By LORRI HELFAND
Published February 22, 2007
LARGO - With the mayor at his side, longtime Largo City Manager Steve Stanton disclosed to the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday that he is undergoing hormone therapy and counseling in preparation for a sex-change operation.
Through the process, which could take well over a year, Stanton plans to remain as the chief executive of the city of 76,000. He has the support of Mayor Pat Gerard, elected last March.
"He's a dedicated city manager and puts his job first," said Gerard, who learned of the decision Jan. 1.
Stanton, 48, said he eventually will change his name to Susan, the name his late mother would have given him if he had been a girl.
Married with a 13-year-old son, Stanton said he has thought of becoming a woman since childhood. He said he has gone out in public as a woman in recent years, but only in places like Orlando, Atlanta and Chicago.
Stanton had planned to announce his decision in June so his son could be out of town. But that changed this week after the Times heard of possible changes in Stanton's life and approached him. He and Gerard described in detail his decision and plans Wednesday morning.
Stanton said he is "terrified" about the effect of the news on his family, but he wouldn't comment on the future of his marriage. His wife, Donna, could not be reached for comment.
"I love my wife," he said. "She's been superb. She's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
After an interview, he began telling city commissioners, department managers and others, many of whom were stunned.
"Is this a hoax?" asked City Commissioner Mary Gray Black, who heard from a reporter. "It flabbergasts me."
Tom Morrissette, president of the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard.
"Live and let live is my attitude," Morrissette said. "It takes courage to come out and say something like that."
"He's not going to be a man, and he's not going to be a female," said Lighthouse Baptist Church Pastor Ron Sanders, who leads a 30-member congregation. "He's going to be an 'it.' It's going to be the most sorrowful decision he has ever made."
Years of exploration
Stanton said he has known he was different since he was 6 or 7, when he slipped on his sister's clogs to walk to the candy store. As an adolescent, after his parents split up and his mom moved out, he tried on her tennis dress.
And in college, as his classmates went to football and basketball games, he went to the library to read up on cross-dressing.
When he graduated, he decided that cross-dressing was incompatible with a career in municipal government and threw away all of his "girl clothes."
But over time, he found himself collecting more and more women's items and purging them with each new job.
When he married in 1990, he thought he would close that chapter of his life.
Seven years later, he started researching on the Web and got involved in an Internet chat group for cross-dressers.
Stanton decided to seriously consider gender-reassignment surgery after Largo City commissioners refused in 2003 to approve a proposed human rights ordinance that would have protected transgender people. Stanton supported the ordinance but did not take on a leading role in the contentious debate.
He began discussing his private life with a therapist who testified in support of the ordinance, and that led to his decision, he said.
Stanton has not scheduled surgery, but he said he would likely start living as a woman in the near future.
Kathleen Farrell, Stanton's clinical psychologist and gender therapist, said most prominent transgender people don't make the transition because society won't accept it.
"They live with this their entire lives," she said. "They find it extremely harmful."
Therapist Pamela Hill-Epps, who counsels transgender clients in Tampa, said going through the process of changing one's gender as a public official makes a difficult process much harder.
"It becomes a strain on the person," she said. "You constantly have to be teaching people about it."
Only a handful of public officials across the country have made the transition. Former St. Paul, Minn., Deputy Mayor Susan Kimberly, 64, said coming out can be terribly scary.
"What Steve is going through right now just takes an enormous amount of courage," said Kimberly, who became a woman in 1984. "It's a matter of staying cool and calm and explaining something that is nothing but a circumstance of life."
'I'm good at my job'
Stanton and Gerard both said they believe he can continue as the city manager during and after the change.
"I'm good at my job," said Stanton, who supervises about 1,200 employees and a budget of $130-million. "My gender has nothing to do with my capabilities."
Most city commissioners said they supported Stanton's decision, but a few said they were concerned about public reaction.
"I don't think it affects how I think of Mr. Stanton or how the city is going to be operated," Commissioner Rodney Woods said.
Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier worries about community backlash.
"If it seems to be a disturbance, then we need to make whatever decision we need to make at that time," she said.
Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said that whether Stanton is male or female, he has the skills to be a city manager, but his career with the city may depend on other factors.
"We have to wait and see what the staff reaction and community reaction is," she said. "If it's going to be a huge reaction, it may dictate his future."
Commissioner Andy Guyette said he also is concerned about the community's reaction, but he told Stanton he would support him.
Stanton and Gerard acknowledged that some people in Largo probably won't accept his choice.
But "it's not in my nature to flee a challenge," Stanton said. "I can't. I won't. It's not in my repertoire of experience."
The mayor agreed.
"I don't believe he should have to go away and hide out and have to re-emerge," said Gerard, who is chief operating officer of Family Resources Inc., a nonprofit social service agency. "The fact that we do that as a society is pitiful."
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan, staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford and staff writers Robert Farley and Will Van Sant contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4155.
Steven B. Stanton
Work: 14 years as Largo city manager
Background: Grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York, holds two degrees from the University of Florida and has worked in municipal jobs in Illinois, Alaska, New York and Kentucky.
Family: Married, one son.
Diversity: 88.8 percent white. After much debate in 2003, commissioners voted not to pass a proposed ordinance protecting transgender people. Later they approved an internal city policy prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, sexual identity or expression.
City employees: About 1,200
In his words
To read Stanton's e-mail to city employees, go to links.tampabay.com.
Cross-dresser: A person who wears clothing most often associated with members of the opposite sex. Not necessarily connected to sexual orientation.
Transsexual: Someone who identifies himself or herself as a member of the opposite sex and who acquires the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. Transsexuals can be of any sexual orientation.
Transgender: An adjective that can encompass preoperative, postoperative or nonoperative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals.
Source: National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, www.nlgja.org/resources/stylebook_english.html