Stanton carefully built circle of trust – By Lorri Helfand, Robert Farley and Will Van Sant

The Largo city manager began revealing to other officials in 2003 that he is transsexual.

Largo – As the debate raged about transgender people, Largo City Manager Steve Stanton sat mute.

It was 2003, and religious conservatives had converged on the City Commission to fight a proposed ordinance that would protect transsexuals from discrimination.

Afterward, then-Commissioner Pat Burke confronted Stanton in his office. She knew he believed in the ordinance, which was defeated. Why not stand up for it?

“There’s just not enough support,” he said.

Burke told Stanton she was disappointed in him.

Days later, he asked her to lunch. It was the first in a series of quiet conversations with colleagues at Largo City Hall. Stanton had a secret, one that could destroy his career. And he knew he needed support.