Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Susan Stantons Story

Part of What We Choose

Transgender individuals face much discrimination in the United States, in part because their struggles and their journeys are not well understood. In the spring of 2007, a public battle arose in Largo, Florida, around the struggle of one transgender person.

Susan Stanton, then known as Steve, had been working as City Manager for the city of Largo for more than fourteen years and was a recent recipient of a sizable merit pay increase. Someone leaked to the local paper the fact that Stanton was in the midst of a gender transition from male to female. The Saint Petersburg Times published the story and "outed" Stanton against her wishes. Stanton's wife was already aware of her circumstances, but her 13-year-old son was not. Stanton rushed home the afternoon before the story broke in order to share her struggle first-hand with her son, whom she feared would be harassed at school following the public disclosure.

Once the news was published, there was an immediate outcry from local residents demanding that Stanton be fired. City Commission (city council) members were inundated with phone calls and emails from residents denouncing Stanton, describing her as "disgusting." One local Baptist minister went so far as to publicly claim that Jesus would want Stanton fired.

Stanton wanted to continue in her position as City Manager, a job which she enjoyed and at which she was successful. Local Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay people rallied in support of Stanton, arguing that job retention should be based on merit, and not on aspects of identity. There were, however, no legal protections in Largo that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Within days of the initial newspaper article, Largo's City Commission held a highly emotional emergency hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Commission voted to terminate Stanton's employment with the city. Several City Commissioners cited as justification for their votes their belief that the public had "lost confidence" in Stanton and, under those circumstances, Stanton could not be retained. In making this important decision, the Commission stood with the majority of residents, and argued that their actions led to a "good" outcome for the maximum possible number of people.