"I transitioned in place. And the community came along with me."

Stewart “Stu” Rasmussen made history in 2008 by becoming the first openly transgender mayor in the United States, securing his third term as mayor of Silverton, Oregon. This marked his inaugural tenure as mayor after publicly coming out as transgender.

Born biologically male, Rasmussen, who predominantly used male pronouns despite identifying as female, was a lifelong resident of Silverton, a farming community with a population of around 9,200. His father served as a mail carrier and managed the local Palace Theatre. Rasmussen, a self-professed enthusiast of all things nerdy, pursued electrical engineering at what is now known as Chemeketa Community College. Before entering politics, he worked for a tech company and ventured into entrepreneurship, ultimately dedicating most of three decades to public service.

During the 1970s, Rasmussen introduced cable TV to Silverton and in 1974, became co-owner of the Palace Theatre. There, he operated the projector, managed concessions, and often greeted patrons in costumes inspired by the films being shown. It was during this time that he began dating Victoria Sage, whom he would later marry.

A socially progressive yet fiscally conservative Democrat, Rasmussen ventured into politics in the 1980s, initially serving as a City Council member. In 1988, still publicly identifying as male, he was elected mayor and served two terms. In the mid-1990s, he ran unsuccessfully for positions in the Oregon House of Representatives and the Oregon State Senate. By the time he sought re-election as mayor in 2008, he had transitioned to female. Despite facing opposition and personal uncertainties, Rasmussen garnered the support of Silverton. He expressed to the Salem Statesman Journal: “A lot of people who are transgender think, I can’t be myself here, I have to go somewhere else … I transitioned in place. And the community came along with me.”

Following his election, members of the anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church, based in Kansas, staged protests in the town. In response, the Silverton community rallied around Rasmussen, with several male supporters donning dresses and carrying signs proclaiming “Jesus Loves Stu.” In 2013, a musical titled “Stu for Silverton” premiered at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, subsequently running in various cities, including New York.

Rasmussen remained in office until he was unseated in 2014. He wed his longtime partner, Victoria, in the same year. In 2018, he made another run for office but was unsuccessful.

Sadly, Rasmussen passed away at the age of 73 due to prostate cancer. His obituary was featured in The New York Times.

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