Stu Rasmussen (1948-2021)

By Joe Fitzgibbon

In a state heralded for its tolerance, Stu Rasmussen stood out. The charismatic city council member of Silverton—serving terms in 1984-1996 and 2004-2008—was the first openly transgender mayor in the United States. He/she (the pronoun that Rasmussen prefers) once described himself/herself as “a dude, a heterosexual man who appears to be female.”

In the mostly conservative, agricultural community of 9,600 people guided by a strong mayor-city council government, Rasmussen—with flaming red hair, breast implants, stylish dresses, and high heels—might seem out of place. Voters elected Rasmussen several times, primarily because of his/her progressive thinking, fiscal conservatism, and leadership style. During council meetings and for functions as mayor, Rasmussen usually dressed conservatively and took a no-nonsense approach to running the city.

Rasmussen, a Silverton native, was easily the most recognized person in the community, in great part because he/she owned and ran the historic Palace Theater, located in the heart of the town’s Commercial National Historic District. As a teenager in the 1960s, Rasmussen sold tickets, ran the concession stand, and operated the projector for his/her father, Albert. As a young adult, Rasmussen managed the seventy-five-year-old theater and took over operations in 1984, the same year he/she was elected to city council.

"My dad was manager when I was born and as far back as I can remember it's been a part of my life," Rasmussen said during an interview. "I'm now disciplining the kids and grandkids of kids I tossed out when I started.” Most evenings, Rasmussen greeted theater patrons at the door or from behind the concession stand.

As mayor, Rasmussen was instrumental in developing a community center, expanding the public library and senior center, rejuvenating local business, and increasing tourist trade. A cross-dresser for his/her entire life, Rasmussen decided to risk his/her political career in 1986 by openly revealing what he/she described as a “feminine other self.” Announcing that he/she was transgender, Rasmussen ran for re-election to the city council—this time in a dress and high heels. The people in the small community re-elected the mayor convincingly, Rasmussen said, because “those who know me judge me by how I govern the city and run my theater, than by the way I look.”

In 2008, Rasmussen ran for mayor on a platform of controlling growth and addressing critical public safety issues, receiving a 13 percent majority over an eight-term incumbent. During his/her tenure in government, Rasmussen resisted efforts to add subdivisions and expand the city boundaries, supported community policing, and strongly marketed Silverton as a community of antique shops, small family-owned businesses, and open-minded attitudes.

Rasmussen lived in Silverton with longtime girlfriend Victoria Sage and a family of house cats. He/she was often contacted by people around the country, including many in the LGBT community, about gender, social, and political issues. In 2013, the Seattle-based Intiman Theatre commissioned and premiered Stu for Silverton, a musical on Rasmussen’s life. Rasmussen died from prostate cancer on November 17, 2021.

  • Stu Rasmussen

    Stu Rasmussen.

    Stu Rasmussen Courtesy Jon Deshler Photography

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Further Reading

Radiolab Podcast. New Stu. 

Wilson, Kimberly A. C. "Silverton gives its vote to transgendered mayor." Oregonian, Nov. 7, 2008.

Wilson, Kimberly A. C. "Silverton rebuffs protest of transgender mayor-elect." Oregonian, Nov. 24, 2008.