On the island of one human family, Steve K. Smith is remembered for making Key West a fabulous gay destination.
Tributes continue to pour into Smith’s Facebook page after his death was announced by his brother, Mike Smith, on July 13. Smith died of heart failure, the result of a long battle with cancer. He was 71.
“Steve was an extraordinary guy and a wonderful brother,” Mike Smith said. “He loved his adopted home of Key West, its colorful and wonderful people, and his friends and neighbors, immensely. His hospitality was legendary!
Smith had many careers, but is largely associated with promoting and developing the southernmost city in the contiguous United States as a global LGBT tourist destination.
“Our Key West family has lost a true ambassador for Key West and the LGBTQ+ community,” said Kevin Theraiult, executive director of the Key West Business Guild. “Steve spent many years promoting our beautiful island community as an all-welcoming, LGBTQ+ destination. Words cannot express how much he will be missed. Our hearts go out to his wonderful husband, Paul Murray.”
Smith and Murray married in 2004 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, not long after the state became the first to legalize gay marriage. The couple lived in Key West and often played host to travelers from around the world. John Tanzella, president and chief executive officer of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, said Smith, a past president, treasurer and member of the board of directors, was integral in the organization’s development.
“As many travel writers and travel industry friends can attest, Steve was a generous host who was always ready to share his Key West with visitors,” Tanzella said.
Smith was involved in many of Key West’s marketing campaigns, bringing charm and passion to each project, friends recalled. Some of those efforts included organizing the nation’s first gay trolley tour, rolling out a gigantic version of Gilbert Baker’s rainbow Pride flag or putting Sushi, the drag queen, in a life-sized high heel for New Year’s festivities and slowly lowering her onto Duval Street at the stroke of midnight.
“Steve most certainly put the GAY in Key West and will be a huge loss,” said Richard Gray, senior vice president of Inclusion & Accessibility for Visit Lauderdale. “Steve and I traveled globally together and what I loved the most was that there was never any rivalry between the two destinations. I always enjoyed our discussions on where LGBTQ+ travel was headed. I will miss him.”
Along with promoting Key West and the Florida Keys to the LGBT community, Smith served for 20 years on the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board, a role that dealt with serious public health issues such as the Zika virus epidemic.
“He didn’t do anything in half measures,” Mike Smith said. “Whatever he did, he always put community and service above self and always fought for what was right.”
A fifth-generation Floridian, Smith was born in Daytona Beach and lived for many years in Lakeland before moving to the Keys in the late 1980s. He is survived by his husband, Paul Murray of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England and brothers Mike Smith of Winter Haven, Florida and Bryan Smith of Jasper, Georgia.
In a 2016 interview with SFGN, Smith recalled being asked to remove a rainbow flag from the Key West table at a trade show in Berlin, Germany — to which he promptly refused.
“Gay life is totally woven into the fabric of this community,” he said. “The whole island is a gayborhood. It is a welcoming, safe place for all. There’s definitely a certain magic here.”