Remembering Carlton Smith

Published: 06/06/2024

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In memory of our friend, LGBTQ advocate Carlton R. Smith.

By Kate Bishop
Training and Programming Design Coordinator, The Center for LGBTQ Health Equity

Our dear friend and treasured Elder Carlton Smith lived his mission as a true servant leader, lighting up the city of Baltimore with his luminous smile. 

“The Duchess” was an extraordinary force of nature, renowned and beloved across LGBTQ groups and far beyond. An exceptionally prominent activist and advocate for his communities, he was a constant and effervescent presence in community workings as he beamed from one event, meeting, speaking engagement, or celebration to the next. As news of his passing on May 29 echoes through the community, the collective expression of heartbreak reveals that hundreds of people regarded Carlton as a close friend. 

Carlton wielded Pride as sword and shield, rooting his power in living his truth. He was a highly visible possibility model as an Elder Black Same Gender Loving community changemaker living well with HIV, both in Baltimore and on a national stage. Elder Smith was a crucial leader within Baltimore LGBTQ and HIV services, lending his wisdom, extensive network, and hard-earned insight to guide multiple organizations in serving our communities more effectively. Countless LGBTQ activists, especially youth, learned how to construct their own lives by watching him live boldly. He carried the responsibility of living his gifts with great integrity and style. Carlton made magic through the collective power of community, demonstrating how the impact of one passionate, dedicated individual can reach far beyond their lifespan. 

Carlton served on the first community advisory board for the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity and was a founding member of the ElderPride Council. Among many community service positions, Carlton was a founder of Black Equity Baltimore, co-chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, a leader with the Office of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Commission, and served as a deacon with his faith congregation Unity Fellowship and as chaplain to the Baltimore Police Department. 

Carlton was a gentle person with a fierce spirit, insisting upon the dignity and inherent value of Black Same Gender Loving people and those thriving with HIV in the halls of power and allocation of resources. “Nothing about us without us,” and “We celebrate our Blackness every day” were quotes he taught young activists and power brokers alike, a vibrant voice for Black queer and trans liberation and wellbeing. His service to the future included mentoring and advising many bright lights among this city’s rising generation of Black SGL leaders, where his leadership and beautifully recognizable laughter will be especially missed.

Carlton Smith’s sparkle was sacred and powerful. He leaves behind a comet trail of shimmering contributions dedicated to the wellbeing of his communities. Carlton demonstrated how to find joy in making lasting and meaningful change. As Chase Brexton and the city of Baltimore grieve the loss of a tremendous icon of liberation, we will keep his passion in our work.