Nation's first openly transgender mayor to give keynote at 25th annual Esprit conference in Port Angeles

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SILVERTON, Ore. –– After a successful political career that saw him serve as mayor of this small Willamette Valley city through the early-1990s, Stu Rasmussen took a break to reckon with a void he felt.

“When I looked in the mirror, I never really saw what I felt,” he said.

He returned to the political scene in 2004 with new purpose, new confidence — and new breasts.

“They've been incredibly empowering,” the current Silverton mayor said.

“Now I have got a body that when I look in the mirror, I like what I see, except for my face — which is still enough to stop clocks.”

In 2008, Rasmussen was elected by Silverton — population 9,344 — voters as the first openly transgender mayor in U.S. history.

This week, he is scheduled to tell the story of how he learned to accept the instincts that make him feel more comfortable wearing lipstick and women's clothing as the keynote speaker at the 25th annual Esprit conference in Port Angeles.

Since 1989, members of transgender organizations from Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., have gathered in Port Angeles to share support and makeup tips.

This year, more than 100 transvestites and transgender people are expected to gather at the Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St., to be themselves for a week.

Rasmussen hopes sharing his story will empower others who are wrestling with their gender identity.

“That courage is hard to come by,” Rasmussen said. “We're dealing with captains of industry, the bravest men in the world, who are still scared to come out and dress how they feel.”

Rasmussen, a successful businessman who has careers in firmware engineering and runs the historic Palace Theater in Silverton, also struggled with that fear.

Attendance at Esprit conferences in the mid-1990s and early-2000s was key to Rasmussen embracing his gender identity.

“It was my coming out ritual, sort of,” Rasmussen said of Esprit.

“I got an Internet connection, found out about Esprit and tapped into this whole community where I found out I wasn't the only person in the world who was the way I am.”

From that, Rasmussen said, he became more comfortable walking around his hometown in heels, where he realized his unique style didn't change how his neighbors looked at him.

“It's simultaneously depressing and comforting to realize you are not the center of everyone's universe,” Rasmussen said.

“When you figure that out, it is incredibly empowering.”

His election brought with it a flurry of national attention, even drawing protestors from the radical Westboro Baptist Church to Silverton.

Friends, neighbors and colleagues staged counter protests in support of their mayor.

“I still get choked up when I think about that day,” Rasmussen said.

Other attention followed, as did a re-elections in 2010 and 2012, including a 2013 musical called “Stu for Silverton” that debuted at Seattle's Intiman Theatre.

Earlier this year, Rasmussen combined his political habit with his shoe habit, selling off much of his vast collection of size 11 women's shoes to help fund operations at the city pool and senior center.

The Esprit conference runs through Sunday, May 18, when participants can attend a farewell brunch before returning home.

Classes, tours and other activities will continue through the week, centered at the Red Lion Hotel.

Conferees will compete in a pool tournament tonight at the Elks Naval Lodge at 131 E. First St.

Wednesday, the Esprit corps will join the Port Scandalous Roller Derby squad for an evening of lip syncing at 7 p.m. at Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St.

Donation admission will benefit Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, which has been Esprit's charity of choice.

Thursday brings with it a Girls' Night Out in downtown Port Angeles, which is planned with an “island” theme from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.

The Esprit Talent Show is open to the public after 8 p.m. Friday at the Elks Naval Lodge.

Between eight and 10 acts will perform, and the $5 cover charge will be donated to Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.

The Saturday night gala, also open to the public after 8 p.m. with a $5 cover charge — also donated to hospice — will have a silvery theme to celebrate Esprit's 25th anniversary in the Juan de Fuca ballroom at the hotel.

The Nasty Habits, a five-piece transgender band, will perform at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights at Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St.

The performances, which are listed on the Esprit calendar as non-Esprit events, will go on until 1 a.m. and are open to the public. The cover will be $5.

For more information, visit www.espritconf.com.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 11. 2014 7:28PM
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