By: Kuhu Badgi — Political Editor
Stu Rasmussen, the first openly transgender mayor in the United States, died on November 17th in his home in Silverton, Oregon. Rasmussen, who was elected mayor in 1988, 1990, and 2014, suffered from prostate cancer.
Rasmussen’s 2008 election was his first as an openly transgender woman and sparked several protests by the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka Kansas, infamous for its anti-LGTBQ+ sentiment. Though they had visited Silverton in the past for political standouts, this statement was noted as especially targeted in its message. The church planted American flags and held signs with hateful messages such as “God Hates You”.
However, the Church’s efforts sparked a counterprotest of over 150 individuals. They also shared signs stating “My love is bigger than your hate” and “Everyone is welcome in Silverton”. Several protestors shared personal anecdotes of their connections to Rasmussen.
Silverton’s current mayor, Kyle Palmer shares Rasmussen’s immense influence on the town and the support he garnered from allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community alike. “He set an example for members of our community who needed to see that it was safe to live their lives openly in our community,” Palmer said.
Palmer, who was often Rasmussen’s opponent in elections, shared his notable connections to the community members in Silverton. “I could talk all day about him because I don’t think many people knew him deeply. But everybody would say they knew him,” Palmer said. “He had some way of connecting to people that made everybody feel like they knew him.”
The events of the protest and Rasmussen’s decision to transition sparked dialogue nationwide regarding the value of promoting marginalized voices— especially those of the LGBTQ+ community. Rasmussen even inspired the Seattle musical “Stu for Silverton”, which told the story “of not compromising, being entirely yourself, and believing in the power of change – in cities big and small,” according to The Seattle Times.
After his 2008 win, Rasmussen shared his surprise in the continued acceptance Silverton maintained for him. Specifically, he worried about the negative reactions to his breast enhancement surgery, which he underwent as a first step in his transition process. “I figured my political career was over because, you know, “who is going to elect somebody in that package?” he said.
He went on to acknowledge the importance of both his transition as well as the reactions of his town, which would redefine the reality of being openly transgender in the public eye.
“A lot of people who are transgender think, ‘I can’t be myself here. I have to go somewhere else, go to Portland or to San Francisco, and let the other side of me come out,” Rasmussen said. “I transitioned in place. And the community came along with me.”
Rasmussen’s partner, Victoria Sage, shared that she was already receiving letters from many whose lives he had touched. “Each is different, all are beautiful and heartwarming,” Sage wrote in an email to the Statesman Journal.