With no transition plan, Stanton wrote one
Many companies have policies to protect transgender employees, but the city of Largo didn't.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published March 16, 2007
LARGO - Transgender people are a tiny fraction of the population, but their presence in the workplace increasingly is catching the attention of their bosses.
By one count, 469 employers, including a quarter of the Fortune 500, have antidiscrimination policies protecting transgender employees.
Some also have guidelines to ease their transition at work.
Largo has an internal antidiscrimination policy for city employees, but until recently it had nothing like a transition plan for transgender workers.
Then City Manager Steve Stanton started to write one.
Usually, transgender employees are advised to talk to their bosses or human resources director about coming up with a plan. But Stanton was the city's chief executive.
"I called 10 different people," he said. "Nobody had any experience with doing this at my level."
So Stanton sketched out an eight-page plan. It included a detailed schedule, a public education campaign and a media strategy, culminating on June 25, when Susan Stanton would report for work.
Generally, it was an "excellent communications plan," said Jillian Todd Weiss, assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, who specializes in corporate transgender policies.
Stanton expected success would depend on five things:
- Mayor Pat Gerard's support.
- The human resource director's ability to prepare employees.
- The willingness of the police and fire chiefs to convey their belief in him as a leader.
- Former City Commissioner Pat Burke's ability to develop a community support network.
- Stanton's own ability to show that he would not be distracted from his duties.
But he never got a chance to put it in motion.
The City Commission placed Stanton, 48, on paid leave on Feb. 27, days after news broke that he plans to change his gender. He will make his case to keep his job at 6 p.m. March 23.
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Employers who have adopted antidiscrimination protections for transgender people say it's good for business.
"Our polices are designed to be as flexible and diverse as possible so we can accommodate all talent and make them think of Raytheon as an employer of choice," said David Albritton, the spokesman for the defense and aerospace company that employs 80,000 worldwide.
To create his own plan, Stanton spent about two years researching others.
He presented his plan to Gerard, her husband, Burke, the chiefs and the human resources director last month.
He wanted feedback: Should he provide a picture of what he would look like before showing up to work? Should he hold a lunchtime "meet Susan" event?
Stanton also planned to change his name legally in August and have gender reassignment surgery in summer 2008.
By the time the "transition group" met, the mayor and Commissioner Gay Gentry were the only commissioners who knew of Stanton's decision.
Some other commissioners and members of the public since have criticized Stanton's decision to form a "transition group" to help formulate his plan.
But Weiss and other specialists in transgender workplace issues say it's a common practice.
"Many companies go the route of putting together a team of individuals to make sure the transition goes smoothly and is communicated appropriately," said Daryl Herrschaft, of the Workplace Project for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group.
Stanton planned to tell the other commissioners - except for Mary Gray Black, who led the move to fire him - on June 16 and June 17. Stanton said he didn't intend to meet with Black because, unlike other commissioners, she refused to talk with him one-on-one. She did not return three calls for comment.
Gerard said she opposed giving commissioners short notice because they would be the first ones to "have a microphone stuck in their face" and needed "time to think about it."
Commissioners should have been told a lot sooner, said Commissioner Gigi Arntzen.
"I certainly would have honored the confidentiality of it," she said.
What concerned Commissioner Andy Guyette was the idea that Stanton was taking advantage of employees he confided in.
"Those people had no clue," he said. "They are just pawns in the game."
Neither chief said they felt manipulated, but both described their roles differently than Stanton portrayed in the plan.
"His effectiveness relies on us, not to sell his change in gender, but to help employees understand and to minimize misconceptions," Police Chief Lester Aradi said. "What he didn't take into account is that community opinion and the entire opinion of the staff mattered."
Fire Chief Jeff Bullock said he saw himself as a sounding board. Stanton had earned his trust. He wasn't going to turn his back.
"For the six months that I knew, he was a good boss," Bullock said. "He certainly didn't give me any breaks."
Stanton's plan also included an assumption that didn't pan out. He planned to have an off-the-record meeting with the St. Petersburg Times and expected the paper to hold the story for three weeks.
Instead, the Times asked him about his plans on Feb. 20. The newspaper refused a request for an off-the-record meeting and reported his plans the next day.