Despite outcry, Stanton is fired
Largo again votes 5-2; dozens testify his gender change shouldn't matter.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published March 24, 2007
LARGO - Steve Stanton couldn't overcome the odds. Largo city commissioners voted 5-2 to fire him early this morning, a month after he revealed he planned to become a woman.
The vote was identical to one taken Feb. 27 and came after a six-hour meeting including four hours of public testimony, most of it urging the commission to save Stanton's job.
"I was optimistic, but realistic that it was going to be very difficult to slow down the train," Stanton, 48, said after the vote. He said he has made no decision about whether he'll take additional legal action.
Stanton - joined by his attorney, specialists and accomplished transgender people - had led the charge for his job Friday night, asking commissioners to look past gender issues and judge him on his accomplishments in 14 years as Largo's top bureaucrat.
"I'm asking you to realize I'm still the same person today that I was four weeks ago. I'm asking you to judge me on my qualifications and performance and the fact that this organization is the best run organization in Pinellas County," he said.
But in the end, commissioners said that they lost their trust in him and that he didn't meet the leadership standards he set for employees.
"I will tell you it is not about transgenderism," said Commissioner Gay Gentry. "It is about making sure that the 1,000 people who work in the city, work in such a way that they can give superior services for the 75,000 people who live in this city. I tried to vote the right way for the right reasons."
Commissioner Andy Guyette said honesty, integrity and trust were the foundations of their relationship with him and that "without trust, there is no longer a foundation to any relationship."
Gentry and Guyette were among the five commissioners who moved to fire Stanton in an emergency meeting Feb. 27, six days after the St. Petersburg Times disclosed he was undergoing hormone therapy in anticipation of gender re-assignment surgery. Later stories, which have garnered interest around the world, revealed Stanton had told a handful of subordinates and elected officials about his plans, but not every commissioner.
Stanton's 30-minute statement Friday night, his most extensive comments since the Feb. 27 meeting, were nearly eclipsed by the spectacle of the evening. After Stanton and his team spoke for two hours, commissioners began hearing from the roughly 100 people who had signed up to speak. Most were from Tampa Bay and they included several transgendered people, including a Pasco sheriff's deputy. Most spoke in support of Stanton.
Shortly before 10 p.m., the meeting was briefly stopped for a bomb scare; his assistant city manager, Henry Schubert, was treated by paramedics after he blacked out; and across City Hall, dozens of the nearly 300 people in attendance wore light pink T-shirts that proclaimed "Don't Discriminate."
They were distributed by Equality of Florida, a statewide advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Stanton apologized for not informing some commissioners before they heard of his plans in the media, and he explained why he didn't leave and transition out of the public spotlight.
"Largo has not been a job to me," he said. "Largo's been a passion. One does not just replace one's passion."
Stanton's plea came after 90 minutes of presentations from his team of experts, who sought to remind commissioners of his success as city manager. They explained what it means to be transgendered and how someone can make a smooth transition in the work place.
Among those supporting Stanton's case were Susan Kimberly, former deputy mayor of St. Paul, Minn., who started living as a woman in 1983; and Margaret Stumpp, chief investment officer for Quantitative Investment Management Associates, who transitioned from man to woman five years ago while keeping her job overseeing $60-billion in investments.
Stanton's case also included comments by Dr. Walter Bockting, associate professor at University of Minnesota Medical School and a specialist in transexualism. He said gender identity disorder isn't something people can change.
The majority of the public who spoke urged the commission to keep Stanton, including longtime Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner, who told the commission it had a "wonderful opportunity" to serve as an example for students by keeping Stanton.
But some speakers, including former Mayor Bob Jackson, said Stanton created a culture of fear.
"You need to listen to what the residents are telling you in Largo and they're telling you it's time for a change in city management," Jackson said.
Another resident said Largo's choice made "Largo the laughing stock of the whole country.
"We're a disgrace," said resident Jimmy Dean. "It seems a couple people here want to make Largo into a weirdo town."