His struggle, their stories

With Steve Stanton's job on the line, strangers feel compelled to speak up.

By Lane DeGregory
Published March 27, 2007

LARGO -- They brought their own stories, their past struggles, their prejudices. Some said they understood. Others didn't want to know.

More than 100 people strode to the podium in Largo City Hall on Friday, speaking for and against City Manager Steve Stanton, 48, a city employee for 17 years.

Commissioners voted last month to fire him after he announced he plans to become a woman. On Friday night, they heard his appeal - and voted again to fire him.

From 6 p.m. until after midnight, doctors and ministers took the microphone, as did a left-handed woman, a union leader, an "open, gay, liberal Marxist feminist." They each had their own analogy, their own rhetoric and reason.

The doctor

Dr. Walter Bockting, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has spent 20 years counseling and studying transgender people:

"It usually goes back to childhood. There is a strong, intense discomfort with their biological sex. . . . It's not something one can change. In the '40s and '50s, psychiatrists tried to change it. People set it aside. But it came back stronger than ever. Since the '60s, the treatment has been to help transgender people live with it.

"It's normal for co-workers, family and friends to feel shocked, betrayed, deceived, angry, that their trust has been broken. That's an adjustment process that the workplace goes through as well. . . . It's tough. I feel for his co-workers. And some of you are his friends, too. It's understandable. But I regret you made a decision to terminate Steve while you're going through your own adjustments."

The other doctor

Dr. Mark Franklin, family doctor and Largo resident:

"My sister is living the gay lifestyle, and she's happy. But what Mr. Stanton is contemplating is a horrifically deforming surgery. A sexually reproductive male is not a female. We need to help the patient, not help him act out on his delusions.

"Mr. Stanton has been encouraged to act out and be a woman. Do we encourage the alcoholic and the pedophile to act out on their desires? You'd be setting the standard that no matter how sick your choices are, you can be employed by the city of Largo."

The nurse

Kathy O'Gara, Largo resident, mother of two, nurse for 28 years:

"For years, I worked at Bayfront Hospital, in the labor and delivery unit. I saw babies born with two sets of genitalia. I knew they didn't ask for that. God wouldn't send those babies to hell, because he made them that way. Things aren't always what they seem.

"I know it's hard to relate to chemical mix-ups in the brain and all that. But I know it was real. I saw it."

The minister

Rev. Ron Sanders, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Largo:

"Mr. Stanton brought God into this. He said he was seeking the truth. Anybody looking for the truth of God would not go to cross-dressing Web sites. . . . God, I believe, is disgusted by this.

"I believe God answered his prayer when he gave him a great wife and son. Common sense tells us God would want him to be a good husband and father. He's neither. I believe he's very selfish. He's not taking care of his wife or son."

The left-handed woman

Val Maxam-Moore, works in Largo, lives in St. Petersburg:

"I was born left-handed. I can be made to be right-handed. You can do that to me. But I still know I'm left-handed. There was a time when people who were left-handed were considered evil. Those in power tried to change that in them. But we got past that . . .

"Steve has tried to be someone he isn't. His differences don't affect his ability to serve this community. Judge him on his abilities and his qualities as a leader."

The union boss

Lester Pulfer, executive vice president of the Communications Workers of America, representing Largo city employees:

"Mr. Stanton did a great disservice by making employees fear losing their jobs. Your employees need normalcy in the workplace. There has been no kinder, gentler Mr. Stanton these past few years, as he's been going through all this. Very good employees have been terminated, forced out for not fitting the mold.

"It's time to put smiles back on your employees' faces and return to them the pride of doing their jobs. It's time for Mr. Stanton to go."

The lesbian

Brittany Kanuck, Clearwater:

"I do not understand transsexualism. I'm an open, gay, liberal, Marxist feminist. But I still don't get it.

"I do, however, support honesty and consideration toward human rights. We can say this issue isn't personal. But it is. Steve was put on administrative leave because of bigotry and intolerance. I do not support discrimination or endorse intolerance. It's against the law. . . . I still don't understand transsexualism. But I understand discrimination."

The wife

Donna Stanton has been married to Steve ever since he started working for Largo. They have a 13-year-old son, Travis. At Steve's appeal, Donna sat in the second row near the wall. She spoke to a reporter after the meeting.

"It would have been easier for me if the commissioners had just admitted it was a transgender issue. I know I don't fully understand that either. But for them to say it was a matter of trust, that Steve was trying to promote his own agenda, I know that's so not true. He always did what was in the best concern of the city. To start making references to his trustworthiness or his integrity, that's so not him.

"And when that minister stood up and started talking about me and Travis, I just wanted to shake him and say, 'Don't speak for me! You don't understand!' "

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