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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Media Frenzy Over Stanton Firing

I am surprised at the amount of interest shown in the story of the firing of Steve Stanton, City Manager of Largo, Florida. (I gave my analysis of the law in my previous post.)

The discriminatory animus shown certainly deserves scrutiny, but there have been other stories equally deserving of interest from this point of view. For example, just last month, there was the story about John Nemecek (now Julie), a professor who was fired for much the same reason as Steve Stanton. That garnered a lot of media interest, more than I've seen in a while. Instead of a few articles filed under the category of "Bizarre News" in scattered papers around the world, as there usually is when these stories break, a Michigan daily newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot, did a series of thoughtful articles, which went to the major US papers. The media interest in the Stanton story, however, is even larger. A Google search done this morning shows four times the number of English web pages ("John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor" = 9,000 "Steve Stanton AND Largo = 38,000). Since the Nemecek story has had a month to germinate, one would think it would be ahead of the Stanton story in terms of the number of web pages.

Google News this morning showed over 200 news sources carrying the Stanton story. It was one of Yahoo's most popular news stories on March 1. Google Blog Search shows over 300 blog posts on the issue (There are now 80 listed for the Nemecek story)

The Miami Herald published this story yesterday:

Largo sex change case draws media attention



Transgender activists say there's only one thing unusual about the case of Largo, Fla., City Manager Steve Stanton: Not that he's being fired for planning to become a woman, but the deluge of publicity he's gotten as a result.

Here's Newsweek's story. And People magazine. Wikipedia now has a page for "Steve Stanton" detailing his life history. It's a fairly interesting read, though one must sometimes take Wikipedia with a grain of salt.


And here's a graph of this blog's page views from SiteMeter:



Why is this story so big?


"Other people have been fired, but not in such a public way and not at the behest of a screaming mob,'' said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Yes, people have lost their jobs because they've transitioned. But this is the most public case involving a hearing.'' This quote is in the Miami Herald story. Because the interest in the story began before the firing, I think attributing all of it to being publicly fired at the behest of irate citizens is missing part of the force of this story. I think part of the interest is that this involves an upstanding public official who breaks the prejudices that people have about transsexuals.


I have encountered three major prejudices about transsexuals. 1. They are mentally ill people with shattered lives. 2. They are promiscuous deviants obsessed with sex. 3. They have anti-social tendencies, including unethical or criminal conduct. Here, to the contrary, we have a public official responsible for running a large US city. He has explained his situation, when confronted by the St Petersburg Times, with dignity and aplomb. He is married with children. He has done an excellent job running a large US city for the past 14 years, and not been suspected of criminal or ethical wrongdoing. This is not a person living a shattered life, nor a sexual predator, nor a criminal. While the public may be slightly interested in the story of radiologist, ferry worker, cook, manager or professor (all of whom recently had stories in the news) fired because of transgender identity, I think the idea that an upstanding public official can also be a transsexual is non sequitur for most of the public. I think the idea that an upstanding person of any sort can also be a transsexual is non sequitur for most people.


Most people have never heard of a successful transsexual, though there are certainly plenty of recent descriptions if you look, including biographic books such as "She's Not There," from college professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, "Branded T," by psychotherapist Rosalyne Blumenstein, Jamison Green's "Becoming a Visible Man" Mark Rees "Dear Sir or Madam" and websites such as Lynn Conway's "Transsexual Women's Successes" and "Successful TransMen." Amy Bloom's "Normal," while not written by a transsexual, also shows successful trans lives.


In addition to this being a story of unusual publicity, I think it is also an unusual chance to educate journalists and the public about diversity.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to think that one of the contributing factors to the amount of coverage of the Stanton firing is due to it being government doing the firing. And not just government - but elected City Councilors directly ordering the firing of an employee.

Being fired not for poor performance, nor for engaging in anything illegal. Many people think that private organizations - particularly those that claim religous objections - deserve more lattitude in being permitted to discriminate than government. Or - at the very least - that government should stay out of peoples personal lives.

One has to wonder what each of these City Councilors have put on the record previously about Stanton's performance and character. They've renewed Stantons' employment contract for 14 years. And wonder how they'll respond to a religous group calling for their resignations if they've ever divorced or had sex when not married.

Kelly said...

Thanks for doing two wonderful and informative posts about this tragic story. I really hope that maybe some good can come from this, that the city will reconsider and the public at large will begin to understand that we just aren't very interesting and certainly nothing to be feared. One can hope, can't they?

Ethan said...

I believe that Stanton's case is getting so much attention because it's crunch time for ENDA and a few of those orgs who have been faithful (caugh caugh) to their promise to fight for trans-inclusion have found their poster child as yet another vehicle for fund raising.

Ethan
ps love your blog!

Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss said...

The surprising popularity of the Stanton case in the news media continues. As of this morning 3/9/07, here are the stats on these two similar cases:

Google News search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=132
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=470

Google Blog search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=47
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=488


Google Web search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=352
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=42,400

Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss said...

The surprising popularity of the Stanton case in the news media continues. I've also noticed a major increase in page views of this blog, and I've added a graph to the main post above to show it.

As of this morning 3/9/07, here are the stats on these two similar cases:

Google News search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=132
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=470

Google Blog search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=47
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=488


Google Web search
"John Nemecek" AND "Spring Arbor"=352
"Steve Stanton" AND "Largo"=42,400