Obituary: Bobbie Burnett, former Free Library worker, 61

Bobbie E. Burnett, a trans woman who filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against the city in 2009, died Feb. 3 due to complications from a tractor accident. She was 61 and lived in Martinsville, Va.

The accident occurred Jan. 27 on Burnett’s front lawn, said Nancy A. Forrest, her partner of 10 years. She said Burnett was transported to a hospital in Forsyth County, N.C., where she later died.

“This was a horrendous accident,” Forrest said.

Burnett grew up in New York, where she lived until she moved to Philadelphia in her 30s. While in New York, Burnett was employed as a baker and photographic technician. “She had a strong work ethic,” Forrest said.

In 1991, Burnett started working in the Free Library of Philadelphia system as a library assistant. She retired in 2015.

In September 2009, Burnett filed a federal lawsuit against the city, citing pervasive anti-trans bias within the Free Library system. The suit was settled for $385,000 in May 2014, said Kristine W. Holt, an attorney for Burnett.

“The lawsuit was groundbreaking for what it established,” Holt said. “Bobbie deserves much credit for standing up for herself and taking her abusers to court. She endured an enormous amount of pain and intentional abuse to become her authentic self.”

A Free Library spokesperson issued this statement: “We mourn the loss of our former employee, Bobbie Burnett, and send our condolences to her family.”

Forrest said she and Burnett moved to Martinsville in January 2016. Burnett enjoyed many hobbies during her retirement in Virginia, including gardening, camping, reading, sailing, assembling model trains and collecting mechanical items.

“She was an avid eBay buyer and seller,” Forrest said. “We’ve had more than 1,000 transactions on eBay. Many of them involved unusual mechanical items. Bobbie also was a history buff and bought a lot of Civil War and World War II books and pictures.”

Burnett was a devout Lutheran and religion played an important role in her life, Forrest added.

“Bobbie would visit the sick and distribute communion to them. She took an active role in the church both in Philly and in Martinsville.”

Burnett also enjoyed traveling.

“We went to Seattle to buy a steamboat,” Forrest recalled. “That was a lot of fun but it was awful cold. I still have the steamboat. We had it on the lake several times. It’s covered for winter storage right now.”

The Rev. Fritz Fowler of University Lutheran Church in Philadelphia mourned Burnett’s passing.

“Bobbie was a confident person who knew who she was and stood up for herself,” Fowler said. “She cared deeply about the LGBTQ community and especially young adults. She was very generous with her time and resources.”

Forrest said Burnette was a football fan and had looked forward to watching the Super Bowl, but died a day before the game.

“We were soulmates and I’ll miss her very, very much,” Forrest said.

A memorial service is planned for 11:45 a.m. March 11 at University Lutheran Church, 3637 Chestnut St., first floor. The public is welcome to attend. Memorial contributions may be made to the church.