Rainbow of Love
Story by Taylor Strickland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Gay Man Gains Acceptance, Love, & Growth
Gay Man Gains Acceptance, Love, & Growth
“I knew very young that I was different,” says Tim Smith, executive director of Brookdale Chambrel Pinecastle, an independent senior living community in Ocala. “I was sensitive.
“I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition,” he explains. “I did what I thought my church and my family expected of me, so I got married at a very young age. I was married for almost 10 years.
“I was very honest with my spouse, and we amicably split. We’re still friends to this day,” Tim continues. “She followed me when I went to Texas to get my second master’s degree and ended up staying there as director of the Texas Girls’ Choir. She travels all over the world now.”
During his time as a social worker in Gainesville, Tim met someone new. “It was the first relationship I was in as a gay man. I found a church that was open and accepting of me, and they taught me it was okay to love myself.
“I didn’t always accept that part of me,” Tim admits. “I’ve always been a very spiritual person, and I’ve always been very active in my church community. I didn’t want to lose that, but it felt like I couldn’t have both.
“LGBT people couldn’t marry at that time, but my partner and I were going to have a commitment ceremony at the church that I mentioned,” Tim recounts, “the Trinity Metropolitan Church up in Gainesville. It’s the largest LGBTQ church in the world.”
Spirituality has remained a constant in Tim’s life. “I didn’t have to give either up to be free, and I would say that today I am truly free.”
Despite Tim’s candor with his ex-wife, he still wasn’t comfortable coming out to his parents. Unfortunately, the choice was taken from him. “Someone outed me—not intentionally or maliciously. It was actually another family member, who just thought that everybody knew.”
It was Tim’s aunt who accidentally spilled his secret. “My mom called me on the phone, and I said, ‘Mom, don’t ask me anything else you don’t want an honest answer to. I’ve been lying my whole life, and I don’t want to do that anymore, especially not to you.’”
Tim lost his mother earlier this year. “It makes me emotional just thinking about it,” he shares, misty-eyed.
During that conversation, Tim’s mother inquired why he never told her. “I said, ‘Look, even thinking this is going to sound ludicrous to you, but I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore.’
“Her response to me was, ‘If you were an ax murderer, I would still love you. I might not understand everything about why you were an ax murderer, but you’re my child, and I can’t unlove you.’ That opened the door for us to have the conversation.”
The only stipulation Tim’s mother had was that he told his father. “Of course, he already knew, but she wanted us to talk about it, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that.”
Tragedy and some well-timed brotherly advice are what invariably led to reconciliation between father and son. “When my aunt and uncle were away on vacation, their 18-year-old son threw a party at their house. Later that night, the house caught fire, and he died.
“My uncle said, ‘I would give anything in the world to have my son today. I wouldn’t care if he was gay or not. You know a little more about Tim than you did a couple weeks ago, but you still have the opportunity to love your son while you’re both living.’ Basically, my dad got permission from his older brother to just love me, and our relationship became so much more than it had ever been.”
With his parents’ blessing, Tim was ready to start again. “At the age of 40, I found myself single. I ended up meeting someone from Gainesville. We’ve since been legally married and raised his biological daughter together. She was about 6 years old when we met, and she’s 19 now. She goes to College of Central Florida.”
“There have been times in my life where things have been very difficult. I was physically attacked because of my sexuality in 2010, so not that long ago. It was in Fort Lauderdale, the gayest place in Florida,” Tim states dryly. “I’d never been in a fight before in my entire life. I knew that I was either going to die there, or I had to fight back. I fought back.
“It was a pivotal moment for me. I was no longer afraid, because I knew, regardless of what happened, I had the ability to fight back.”
Tim compares this experience to the Stonewall Riot, an affirming historical event for the wider LGBTQ community. “I’m not an advocate for fighting against the police, but in that case, they fought because they were being mistreated.”
Past experiences with prejudice often inform Tim’s approach with community residents. “There’s been times in my office where a resident was struggling with their child’s sexuality, and I’ve been able to use my own story to help them cope with their struggles. There are other times where I knew it might not change their mind. Approaching people as individuals helps.
“I have a theory that we’re all born original and die copies, unless we’re willing to change that. The greatest form of learning is unlearning. I’m always looking for the opportunity to learn or maybe find a better way, because if you don’t learn, you never grow.”