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Opinion | They Used the Bible to Attack Her. She Used the Bible to Forgive Them.

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In June, the city of Largo, Fla., celebrated Pride Month. A rainbow flag flew over City Hall; at a meeting of the city commission, a speaker noted that the city’s success was attributable in part to its diversity. A proclamation issued by the city noted that one reason to observe Pride Month was to “acknowledge the history of prejudice and discrimination toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and nonbinary individuals.”

But some in Largo are reluctant to acknowledge the city’s own history of discrimination. In February 2007, Susan Stanton, then the city manager, was in the quiet, early stages of gender transition when someone outed her to The St. Petersburg Times.

Before she was outed, Ms. Stanton had been widely praised for the job she had been doing for more than a decade. She had recently received a significant raise. Soon after she was outed, she was fired by the city commissioners. (The commissioners said they did not fire her because she was transgender.)

What followed was a documentary on CNN, an interview on “Larry King Live” and an unspeakably cruel segment by The Daily Show correspondent Rob Riggle that concluded with an animation of the state of Florida being cut off from the United States by a giant pair of scissors.

In the wake of her dismissal, Ms. Stanton decided against suing Largo for its treatment of her, saying that it would be like “suing my mother.”

The year 2007 was, by some measure, early in the fight for trans equality, seven years before Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of Time and the magazine declared that “The Transgender Tipping Point” had arrived. To watch the Rob Riggle segment now is to be astounded by how very normal it once was to be very awful to trans people.

But then, in a lot of places, it’s still normal.

In June, Diane Daniel, a former resident of Largo, asked city leaders to formally apologize for the harm the city did in firing Ms. Stanton, an action that not only ended her tenure as city manager, but also sent “a message to the community about how the city treats people.”

An apology would acknowledge a wrong, Ms. Daniel told The Tampa Bay Times, and perhaps make other marginalized people feel safer. “It’s the right thing to do.”

I recently had a brief conversation with Michael Smith, currently a Largo city commissioner. An apology, Mr. Smith told me, might do real good for his city. “Hopefully we can just all get back to loving each other and just being kind to each other,” he said. But the current city manager, Henry Schubert, seems less enthusiastic. “Please understand this was a decision by Commission in 2007 and not the current City Commissioners or organization,” he wrote to me in an email.

Another person who seems uninterested in an apology is Susan Stanton herself, who has left town management entirely and is now an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. “I don’t find the topic of apology nearly as important as forgiveness, acceptance and joy,” she wrote to me via email. “Life is what we make it. And, Largo did not take anything away that I need back.”

That is not to say that the hatred directed at Ms. Stanton all those years ago hasn’t affected her. “Being publicly tarnished resulted in the loss of every meaningful friendship of my life,” she wrote. “It destroyed my professional network, and the people I felt were my most trusted of all friends walked away the quickest.”

I asked Ms. Stanton if an apology from the town might provide some solace, but she seems to have moved on. It is not an act that “will make what was done less sinful or wrong,” she wrote.

My email exchange with Ms. Stanton made me wonder what it actually means to forgive, to be forgiven or to forgive oneself. Admitting to past wrongs can help us move forward, and can keep us from being consumed by loss and hatred. But forgiveness doesn’t mean that the past did not happen, or that the harm that was once done to us — or that we have done — has disappeared. In the end, it may be that forgiveness is best understood as an ongoing effort, part of a lifelong practice of trying to live in the world with grace.

The fact that the people who fired Susan Stanton back in 2007 are no longer on Largo’s city commission makes it easier, perhaps, to imagine that the town — and the nation — have all moved on to a kinder, gentler world. But the attack on transgender people, nationwide, is fiercer than ever. Indeed, on June 1, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, celebrated Pride Month by signing into law a bill prohibiting transgender girls and women from participating on sports teams that match their gender.

Anti-trans bills have been focused lately on children; the hate lingers. “I absolutely can see this happening again in 2021,” Ms. Stanton wrote to me. It “is happening as people become more sophisticated in disguising the reasons to discriminate against transgender people.”

More than 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced in statehouses nationwide this year.

In considering the way she was betrayed 14 years ago, by people in the town she loved, Ms. Stanton told me, “It was so very critical to forgive and to be at peace with the circumstance that I confronted.” And then, quoting Luke 23:34, she added, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I would like to be as forgiving as Ms. Stanton seems to be, and to walk away with grace. But it’s hard.

I’m pretty sure they know exactly what they’re doing.

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