Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Bobby Smith

Epilogue: A man at heart and in manner withstood a polarizing era

TAMPA — Some of Bobby Smith's friends and cousins didn't even know.

He was male, through and through — clothes, hair, mannerisms. He worked hard and paid the bills. He went to church each week. The love of his life, Kay, cooked dinner and cleaned their South Tampa home.

He lived confidently and no one questioned — for a while, not even his co-workers.

Then one day, he needed a hysterectomy.

• • •

Smith's family and friends say "he."

It's not that the word "she" offended Smith. He didn't hide the truth if someone asked. He was physically always a woman.

But he was never really a girl.

"It's amazing, even in his baby pictures, he looks like a boy," said Smith's friend, Derald Gingerich. "I think if there was ever a case for a man inside a woman's body, it was Bobby."

He was born in Georgia. His father taught him to box. Smith begrudgingly wore dresses to school, then changed into overalls first thing after.

"I've always liked boy's clothes," Smith told the St. Petersburg Times in 1992. "I didn't go to college because I would have had to wear a dress. But I took a look in the mirror and said, 'You can go and make it big in the world, or you can be at peace with yourself and eat beans.'"

At 15, Smith kissed a girl for the first time. His mother hauled him to the doctor, called him crazy and forced him to take "female hog hormones" to make him right.

He wore men's briefs and cut his hair. He read The Well of Loneliness, by lesbian author Radclyffe Hall.

Smith was openly gay during a polarizing era. He endured humiliation and belittlement. In the late 1940s, police in the midst of a gay witch hunt picked him up and forced him to strip.

On Thanksgiving in 1959, he met a woman named Kay Thompson at a bar. Thompson wasn't sure if this skinny dance partner in slacks was a man or a woman. But she didn't care.

"I met Bobby and we just got along," said Thompson, 84.

They had a commitment ceremony in 1960 at the home of Smith's mother, who stayed in her room. Smith wore a suit and Thompson wore a gown. They had cake.

Smith worked as a dark room technician and photographer. They settled into Thompson's South Tampa home. They baked cakes at Christmas. Smith always turned out the lights in the kitchen to save money.

The couple positioned his and hers recliners in front of the television. They sat this way, always.

• • •

They inspired many people in Tampa's gay community.

They marched on Washington and lobbied local council leaders. They mortgaged their house to help build Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, a Christian church that welcomes gay people.

"We would not be where we are today... without Bobby's passion and dedication to his principles and his faith and his belief that everybody ought to be respected," said Phyllis Hunt, pastor of MCC Tampa.

Eventually, Thompson broke her hip and needed full care. Smith became exhausted and had some falls of his own. He had a strong heart but may have suffered ministrokes. He lost the will to live.

One night, Thompson said, Smith looked limp. She was in pain, but she got out of her chair. She stood next to him for the longest time, holding his hand.

On May 2, he died. He was 84.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Bobby Smith

Born: Sept. 8, 1923

Died: May 2, 2008

Survivors: partner, Kay Thompson, many cousins and friends

>>Biography

Bobby Smith

Born:

Sept. 8, 1923

Died:

May 2, 2008

Survivors: partner, Kay Thompson, many cousins and friends

Epilogue: A man at heart and in manner withstood a polarizing era 05/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 5:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux

    Transportation

    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later

    Education

    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay

    Roads

    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …