tampabay.com

Stanton: Abrupt firing a surprise

By LORRI HELFAND
Published March 1, 2007


LARGO - Steve Stanton didn't see it coming. He didn't expect Largo city commissioners to fire him Tuesday night, just a week after he acknowledged he wanted to have a sex-change operation.

He planned to feel sorry for himself for a day or so.

But Stanton, Largo's city manager, didn't have a chance.

By Wednesday morning, he had transitioned from public official to public educator. Even as he remained on the city's payroll on paid administrative leave until his termination is final, his new role was beginning.

It started about 10 a.m., as Stanton, 48, swept his front porch after a sleepless night.

When a news truck pulled up, he went inside and hid. When the reporter knocked on the door, he consented to the first of what would become a daylong series of interviews with local television stations and National Public Radio.

He wanted to tell his story before the news media decided it was insignificant, he said.

He said he sought to help "the next person that comes out with the same disclosure so he doesn't suffer the same consequences."

Stanton has said for days he wants people to know what it means to be a transsexual, a person who identifies as the opposite sex and may seek to live as a member of this sex.

Wednesday's media attention gave him an opportunity he didn't want to waste.

Stanton wanted to explain why people like him often don't share their secret with others: "One of the complicating aspects is that you really can't tell someone you're a transsexual and expect they're not going to share that."

And disclosure risks almost everything, including a job you've succeeded at for 14 years, as Stanton discovered.

Stanton's tenure with the city has met with generally good reviews. Last fall, commissioners raised his salary nearly 9 percent to $140,234 a year.

His secret was leaked months before he intended to share it.

The Times reported Feb. 21 that Stanton was undergoing hormone therapy in preparation for gender-reassignment surgery - a plan that had been known only to a small circle of people, including his wife, medical team and a few top officials at City Hall.

He said he has barely slept since the public disclosure and didn't sleep at all after the commission voted Tuesday to fire him. He is currently on administrative leave and has five days to appeal the decision. He said he still may appeal.

"My body is still in that survival mode," he said. "It's been a long week."

He said he felt betrayed that somebody revealed his plans for a medical sex-change operation.

Stanton had an eight-page plan to acclimate staff. He believed his employees would have accepted him as a woman if he had had a chance to education them.

"No city manager has ever attempted to do this before," he said. "I was naive enough to think I could."

By early Wednesday afternoon, Stanton had received about 45 media calls, including one from a Canadian broadcaster. By mid-day, he had told his story to six media outlets.

After the interview at his home Wednesday morning, Stanton drove to Clearwater's recreational Long Center for another.

He sat at a park bench, where he often writes in his journal, near one of his favorite running trails. While there, he fielded a half-dozen media calls and phoned another to reschedule. He didn't want to miss an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, one of his favorite shows, he said.

As he pulled out of his parking space to head to St. Petersburg for another interview, another local TV reporter approached him. Stanton said that interview would have to wait.

By 2:45, Stanton was sitting in the Eugene Patterson archives, a tiny room at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, to be interviewed remotely by NPR's Michele Norris. (Poynter, a journalism school, owns the St. Petersburg Times.)

"I always kind a wondered what you have to do to get on NPR," he said. "Now I know."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.