Jan 13, 2023 - News

Remembering the legacy and love of LGBTQ activists Bobby and Kay

Black and white photos of Bobby and Kay

Bobby Smith (left) and Kay Thompson. Photo: Courtesy of Digital Commons at University of South Florida

One of my favorite Instagram accounts, Queer Love in History, recently shared a story of Tampa Bay locals that I loved.

Why it matters: Queerness is not new. Many LGBTQ people of the past like Bobby Smith and Kay Thompson fought so folks like me could be free to be and love who we want.

  • Seeing stories like this reminds me that no matter how hard things get, queer love endures.

Who they were: Smith, a darkroom technician and photographer, and Thompson, a florist, were activists and founding members of Tampa's Metropolitan Community Church in the '60s.

  • Smith appeared to live as a transgender man, based on past reports. The Bobby Smith Photo Collection at the University of South Florida omits the use of pronouns.
  • The couple were role models to the Tampa LGBTQ community and were seen as one unit, "Bobby & Kay," Queer Love in History writes.

Their love story: "Bobby and Kay met at a bar on Thanksgiving Day, 1959. When they danced, Kay was unsure if Bobby was a man or woman but didn't care. She recalled, 'I met Bobby and we just got along.'"

  • The couple held a commitment ceremony in 1960. Eventually, they bought a home in South Tampa, where they placed 'his and hers' reclining chairs in front of their television. "They would sit here side by side for the rest of their lives."
  • Smith died in 2008, and Thompson passed a year later.

Their legacy: "During the HIV-AIDS epidemic, Kay sent countless unsolicited floral arrangements to victim's funerals because no one else would," per Queer Love in History.

  • "Along with their day jobs, they were fierce activists. Together, they lobbied council leaders, marched on Washington, attended countless LGBT+ events, and mortgaged their home alongside friends and couple Dr. Walt Banks and Jack Busciglio to build the Metropolitan Community Church, Tampa. They strongly believed God loves everyone and wanted to create a welcoming and inclusive church."

Go deeper: Read more stories about Bobby and Kay in the Tampa Bay Times, "Dishing" with Mark and Carrie, and Watermark.

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