RESIDENTS OF SILVERTON, OREGON, like to say their town is "40 miles and 40 years from Portland." If you visit in early January, the sign on the Assembly of God church may still read HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS. If you're friendly when you check into the lone hotel, the clerk will likely thank you "for the smile." And if you stop by the Rolling Hills Bakery, which has the best muffins around, you'll probably learn that it was recently saved from bankruptcy by a handful of locals who stepped up to cook, clean, and work behind the counter—without pay.
On the first Monday night of the year, the parking lots at the community center on Water Street are full. Most of the cars belong to the women who've mobbed the Jazzercise class. The rest belong to the 30 or so people on hand to watch the newly elected mayor take the oath of office. Though the gathering is small—a good 2 million heads fewer than the crowd that will greet President Barack Obama at his inauguration—the occasion is momentous, at least for the 9,500 citizens of Silverton. Stu Rasmussen is about to become the nation's first openly transgender mayor.
This is probably my favorite part:
When Fred Phelps, founder of the Baptist church that launched the website godhatesfags.com, led members of his congregation to Silverton from Topeka, Kansas, last November to protest the coronation of a man who carries a purse, nearly 200 residents greeted them outside City Hall. More than a few were dressed in drag. "Go home," they chanted. "We like our mayor." Sitting in the café, over a cup of coffee and a bagel, Rasmussen tears up at the memory of the brush-off Phelps and his foot soldiers received. "They were treated like freaks," he says.