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Ex-Largo official Susan Stanton topic of CNN documentary

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 10:40 AM

The story of what happened, personally and professionally, to former Largo city manager Steven Stanton after he decided to become Susan Stanton is the subject of a compelling CNN documentary film.

"CNN Presents: Her Name Was Steven," airing multiple times Saturday and Sunday, also shows what people face when they change genders.

Stanton, 51, who had been the Largo city manager for 14 years, was fired in 2007 after it became public that he was preparing for a sex change operation.

After a lifetime of struggle over gender identity, Stanton, who had married and was a father,
decided to become a woman.

By all accounts, Stanton had performed well in the job. But once the public became aware of the gender issue, the Largo community appeared to be divided and Stanton's job was on the line. The issue drew national media coverage.

Bud Bultman, managing editor for CNN Productions, says the network started covering the turmoil in Largo as a news story and but it eventually became "a human story."

In a recent telephone interview, Bultman said Stanton agreed to let CNN document his journey in an effort to educate people about what a transgender person is.

"We followed his life for nearly two years, through the highs and the lows, and we came away with an emotional story that transcends the gender issue," he says.

The 80-minute film includes interviews with Stanton's former wife, his teenage son and co-workers, as well as childhood diaries, personal journals, and family films.

"We were there during hospital procedures and during the frustrating search to find a new job," Bultman says. "At one point, she talks about contemplating suicide and at another point she is at peace with being the person she was meant to be."

"For me ...I just knew that what was inside, this presence ... this feeling of being somebody other than what I was on the outside, was real and it's been something I've struggled with for many years of my life," says Stanton in the documentary.

The film follows Stanton through a divorce, the name change, and failed attempts to find a job. Stanton applied for more than 100 different city management jobs while also campaigning for gay and transgender rights.

"Her Name Was Steven" was completed before Stanton was hired as city manager in Lake Worth, a South Florida town that welcomed her. A title card at the end of the film was added noting that Susan had finally found a job.

"We have been showing the documentary at film festivals where it has been well received," says Bultman. "The audience always applauds when they see that title card at the end."

"CNN Presents: Her Name Was Steven" airs on CNN at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.


Reporter Walt Belcher can be reached at (813) 259-7654

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