Thus saith the Lord ... ?

Amid heated debate, as some argued the Almighty wanted a man to be fired, God did not speak in a still, small voice.

By Lane DeGregory
Published March 4, 2007

LARGO - God was in Largo last Tuesday. He dropped by City Hall, where 500 people had gathered to talk about the city manager.

Steve Stanton had led Largo for 14 years. A week earlier, he had gone public with his plans to become a woman. The City Commission had called a special hearing to see if he should be fired.

All night, even before the meeting started, people invoked God, asking him for help, quoting his book. They said they knew what he would want. They said they knew what his son would do.

But it wasn't clear, really, whose side the big guy was on.

* * *

"Are you a Christian?" Ellen McFarland asked two women sitting on a bench outside City Hall.

"Yes," they both said.

"Well, I'm a born again," McFarland said. "And the Bible's pretty clear about all this. Do you believe Satan's alive and well on this Earth?"

The women didn't answer.

"Well he is. I know he is," McFarland said. "That's why I always feel uncomfortable around gay people. Because they're living a life that's wrong."

The women looked at each other, then at McFarland. God, they said, had given them the courage to come out as lesbians. They'd been a couple for 10 years.

* * *

"When you're born a boy, that's the way you are," Jean Clements said outside before the meeting. "I just feel God must have intended this person to be a man."

* * *

About five minutes into the meeting, an elderly man in the front row interrupted the mayor. "We forgot to salute the flag," he said. "We forgot to pray."

Commissioner Gay Gentry cleared her throat and leaned into her microphone. "Almighty God," she began.

"Yes, Jesus!" shouted someone in the audience.

"We ask tonight for your guidance, your wisdom and patience. Open our eyes to the needs of our community and the citizens we're elected to serve."

Gentry told the city manager she had been praying for him. Later, she would vote to fire him.

* * *

One by one, people approached the microphone to speak.

"I too am a Christian. A small letter c Christian," said J.B. Butler.

"My mom always told me to forget the Old Testament. 'That was written by a bunch of angry old men,' she said. 'Read the red words,' she told me. 'That's the part Jesus said.' "

Butler said his friend had a baby that was born "of indeterminate gender." His nephew, he said, "is like that too."

"God doesn't make mistakes," Butler said. "He gives us the grace to deal with all our pain."

* * *

"Steve Stanton lacks the wisdom to accept the gender God gave him at birth. You need to vote to terminate him." - Thomas Beckwith

* * *

"I beg you not to give in to people whose moral code requires them to be cruel in the name of God. I plead with you not to make a decision based on ignorance. The right thing here is not to kick out Mr. Stanton, but to extend him a hand." - Rick Pettey

* * *

"All the great things Largo has to offer will be overshadowed by this issue. One person's future is not worth an entire city. The eyes of America are on us tonight. Do what's right." - the Rev. Charlie Martin, First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks

* * *

"Choose to honor who he is as a person, who he chooses to be and present to this world. . . . We can't all understand it. But the only other option is severe discrimination based on misunderstanding." - the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater

* * *

"As a Christian and a lesbian, I understand what discrimination feels like. I also know a lot of forgiveness is possible. If his personal life hasn't affected his job performance, that's what you need to make your decision on." - Eunice Fisher

* * *

"We have strayed from the original perfection God created us in. . . . Mr. Stanton, God did not make a mistake when he brought you into this world as a man." - Robert Dixon

* * *

"I wanted to quote the story of Jesus leading the mob to come take someone's job. But I couldn't find that passage in the Bible." - Nadine Smith

* * *

"The Bible has taught me to love him, and I do. But demons are possessing his mind." - Charles Erikson

* * *

Commissioners voted 5-2 to fire Stanton. After the meeting, he said he'd spent that morning in an empty church.

On the hardest day of his life, he needed to talk to God.

Stanton's mother was Jewish, his father Protestant. He goes to services at an Episcopal church but wouldn't say what kind of church he was in that morning.

"Okay, the day of judgment is here. I just wanted to check in," Stanton said he told God. "I knew I'd be walking through the gates of Hell through this. But I know you want me to go forward with this plan."

Then he asked God a question, "Why?"

Not "Why am I transgendered?" or "Why did you do this to me?" or even "Why do they want to fire me for wanting to be who I am?"

"Dear God," Stanton prayed, "why did you make me a city manager?"

Lane DeGregory can be reached at 727 893-8825 or degregory@sptimes.com.