Saturday, November 8, 2008

Talk of Change

This is change personified. Literally. Stu Rasmussen’s been the mayor of this town before. But never before in a skirt and 2-inch heels.

In Silverton, the sleepy Salem, Oregon suburb 40 minutes outside of Portland best known for its lush Oregon Garden and quaint antique shops, the small town’s new mayor-elect is poised to get some major attention in the days and weeks ahead as people come around to realize we’ve got another Oregon first on our hands: the recently elected Rasmussen is likely the first openly gender fluid, transgender-identified mayor of any American city.

I wonder how the troglodytes in the Republican right wing would react. I think I might know.

Rasmussen is a 60-year-old native Silvertonian who’s been a small business owner for most of his adult life, and a public servant in his beloved hometown for going on two decades. He served two consecutive terms as Silverton’s mayor, in 1988 and 1990, when he still dressed exclusively as a male.

He lost a race in 1996 to a now-notorious anti-gay legislator Marylin Shannon. But then Stu discovered the Northwest Gender Alliance, and he gradually became more comfortable with expressing his feminine identity. As reported in this 2004 article in Just Out, Rasmussen realized then that he could express his fluid gender identity with confidence and still be accepted in small-town Silverton. He underwent reconstructive “top surgery” in 2000 on his chest, including breast implants. Rasmussen says the surgery was transformational for him.

Stu in a 1996 Oregon Senate race ad photo.

He “got bit by the public service bug again” and ran for Silverton City Council in 2004. “And I got elected,” Stu says by phone from Silverton, recounting his rise again only hours after learning of his successful mayoral bid. “Boobs and all. I tell people this country has a long and proud history of electing boobs to public office.” (And that’s Stu now, in a 2006 file photo from the Secretary of State’s office.)

What can one say? Only in America? Only in the West? Amazing.

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