Man Decides to Become Woman, Gets Fired

By Jessica Marquez

Mar. 16, 2007

A Florida city preaches tolerance, but officials fire the city manager after news of his planned sex change surfaces

Even though he was fired after word got out that he was planning to have a sex-change operation, the city manager of Largo, Florida, still defends the city’s diversity program.

On February 21, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Steven Stanton, who had been Largo’s city manager for 14 years, was undergoing hormone therapy and was planning to have a sex-change operation. Six days later, the city commissioners voted 5-2 to terminate his employment, saying that they were concerned about his ability to lead the city.

Stanton’s termination comes just seven months after Largo trumpeted its diversity program in an application for the Workforce Management Optimas Awards, which are given to organizations for exemplary workforce initiatives.

Largo, whose motto is “The City of Progress,” created the program three years ago after a small number of employees were terminated for making racial slurs or using derogatory remarks, says Susan Sinz, the city’s human resources director.

The program didn’t focus on specific issues, like those around transgender employees, but it did focus on employees assessing one another based on their knowledge, skills and abilities, Sinz says.

And the program was effective, Stanton insists.

“There is substantive tolerance for diversity among the employees of the city of Largo,” he says. “This wasn’t a Largo issue as much as it was the result of a very active group of churches hijacking the process.”

In the four days following the media reports about Stanton’s planned operation, the city received 800 e-mails insisting that Stanton be fired, he says.

In many cases, Largo employees were prevented from working, Sinz says. For example, one employee who was driving in a city vehicle was afraid to leave her car because of protesters, she says.

Largo tried to address the issue with its 900 full-time employees in the days following the media reports by hosting voluntary educational meetings, says Karen Doering, senior counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which held the sessions. Doering also is Stanton’s attorney. “It was Transgender 101, and it was designed to answer any questions they might have,” she says.

About 40 employees in total attended the pair of two-hour sessions.

A few employees expressed discontent over Stanton’s planned sex change, Sinz says. “Some employees have had a difficult time with this, asking, ‘If he can dress like a woman, why can’t I wear an earring?’ “

Experts say that Largo might have prevented some of the outcry if it had included diversity training about transgender issues sooner.

“Transgender issues are still on the periphery of most diversity initiatives,” says Billy Vaughn, managing partner and chief learning officer of Diversity Training University, a San Francisco-based provider. “It’s a very hard thing for people to understand and talk about because people have very strong feelings about it.”

Stanton and Sinz had developed an education and communications program to address concerns employees might have about his upcoming operation. But they ended up not having time to execute the program because a reporter broke the story before Stanton had informed the commissioners. At press time, Stanton was “leaning toward” appealing the commissioners’ decision, Doering said.

Stanton still believes that if the education plan had been put into place, it would have been successful. Sinz, meanwhile, isn’t sure that any diversity program could have prevented the firestorm in Largo.

“The potential is out there for the public to trump any efforts because they are the ones that allow us to work in the community,” she says.

    Stanton is appealing the commissioners’ decision and a public hearing is scheduled for March 23.

Workforce Management Online, March 2007Register Now!

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