Tag Archives: Carlton Smith

Conversations With The Duchess 3

“PRIDE: A Celebration of Liberation” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     President Barack Obama has just designated the area around the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the nation’s first national monument to LGBTQ rights.  As you know, The Stonewall Uprising is largely regarded as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ movement for civil rights.  And our PRIDE celebrations grew out of that movement. 

     During the 1960’s, very few establishments welcomed openly LGBTQ individuals.  Therefore, there weren’t many places for us to socialize.       

     Then, at 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, eight police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, located on the famous Christopher Street in the city’s Greenwich Village.  In 1969, police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve LGBTQ persons alcohol, or for them to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, customers were lined up and their identifications checked.  Those without ID or who dressed in full drag were arrested.  Oftentimes, patrons would be roughed up.  And, those arrested had their names printed in the newspaper, which resulted in some losing their jobs.   

     It was simply another risk of being gay. 

 

     During that early morning, approximately 200 people were in the Stonewall.  The raid that early morning was the bar’s third during that week; and as always, the police entered with search warrants.  

     However, this time, those 200 patrons did not cooperate.  They resisted and fought back. They were people of color, including Puerto Rican drag queens, Black hustlers, bartenders and some “butch lesbians” (who are not always mentioned in the narrative of what transpired.)

     While others were lingering outside the bar, the police were escorting patrons into the paddy wagon. Suddenly, a fight broke out and the crowd started throwing cobblestones, bottles and garbage at officers, who retreated back into the bar as the crowd grew massive.  As the rioting crowd spilled into the streets and alleyways, the police was forced to call for reinforcements.  The uprising continued for two more nights.

     It was the birth of a liberation movement.

     The Stonewall Rebellion didn’t have “identifiable leaders.”  However, it had  community stakeholders who took a stance against oppression–resisting their oppressors.  It was collective action.  Stonewall became a model, a touchstone for gay liberation groups.  A revolution had begun across the nation.  

CARLTON SMITH  the one

     Now, having said all that, I have some pertinent questions:  shouldn’t the Black Queer Lives Matter Movement be as revered and respected as the Stonewall Uprising?  Shouldn’t it matter just as much?   Where’s the love for people of color who are constantly traumatized by oppression and hate?

     Moreover, Black and Latino trans individuals often face bigotry and violence as they try to live their lives like the rest of us, while too many of us take being exempt from it for granted.  

     On Sunday, June 12th, a gunman entered Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 people. This tragedy has claimed more lives than any other mass shooting in modern day American history–namely the lives of Black and Latino LGBTQ people.  However, mainstream media, politicians and others routinely continue to ignore the implications of race, citizenship and class in narratives about the Orlando tragedy. 

     Actually, the “whitewashing” is nothing new.  Storytelling about Stonewall and other acts of LGBTQ resistance has routinely been told without acknowledging the central roles of brown and Black queer folk–especially transgender women of color.

     Although this is rather disconcerting, together we must combat ignorance and hatred in our daily lives—even after the media spotlight dwindles, and then moves on.  I have to keep in mind to love my enemies according to the Scriptures. However, know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not retreating back inside any closets, for that would be a spiritual and emotional death.  

     Remember:  love is our greatest victory–and I’m in it for LOVE! 

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

 


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Conversations With The Duchess 2

“I Am a Survivor!” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     For my second column, I was trying to think of a theme that would be of compelling interest to my new readership.  

     Then, I had an epiphany:  how about sharing my story, my journey of being a longtime HIV survivor.

     As of March of this year, I quietly celebrate 30 years of living with HIV.   God and His amazing grace has made this milestone possible. 

     And simply put, I’ve always wanted to be an instrument of change.  It’s been my strongest desire that my testimony would be as a shining light to help others who are living with the disease. 

     My personal journey began during the mid-80’s, as part of the disco scene of Studio 54, Better Days and the Garage. These were the glamorous New York City nightclubs during the height of the disco era where many people endeavored to escape the reality of the real world.   

     Like scores of other folk, I wanted to a part of the nightlife and the sexual freedom of that decade.  I’d arrive around close to midnight and hear my favorite DJ beat those melodic sounds that linger in your memories as though it was yesterday.  I’d groove to Grace Jones, Donna Summer, First Choice and Gloria Gaynor, among others. 

     Remember the songs “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Hot Stuff” and “I Will Survive?”   I certainly do!  And, I can vividly recall sweating up a storm, sucking on my favorite cocktails–and meeting hot dates that gave you “service” in the bathroom stalls!   It all reminds me of that “Basic Instinct”movie scene, the one in which Sharon Stone and her girlfriend Roxy ushers the Michael Douglas character into the men’s room stall to “carry on” inside the club.

      Yes, those are some of my memories of the mid and late 80’s.  And, who would’ve thought that a little four-letter word (AIDS) would be an epidemic that would take the lives of millions of people across the globe?

     Therefore, my life’s journey starts the day I found out my HIV status.  I was a twenty-three-year-old Same-gender-loving (SGL) man with the expectation of entering the Air Force. I’d visited the local recruiting station, and signed up for what I’d hoped was going to be a great opportunity to expand my educational background after finishing college.

      However, I received a letter from the military recruiting station’s medical office requiring me to immediately come in for a follow up.  It never dawned on me that my test results would be at issue.

      I remember that chilly morning in March.  At the medical office, I learned that I had acquired AIDS, and had that my life expectancy was only between five months to five years.   And, I was truly devastated by the comments from the doctor who said that my “promiscuous lifestyle” and prior sexually-transmitted diseases were responsible for the infection.

     Like many other men during that time, I didn’t have any information about HIV/AIDS.  Feeling angry, confused and suicidal, I asked myself, “What kind of future will I have?”  I felt as if I’d fallen into a deep abyss, without a parachute.  I didn’t know what would become of my life. 

     Fortunately, because of my strong spiritual background, I realized that suicide just wasn’t an option.  The only thing for certain was that the Universe (God) had my back.  My unshakeable faith in God and prayer got me through this dilemma, along with the positive support I received from many people who themselves were infected/affected by the epidemic.

     Moreover, I just couldn’t get over the hypocrisy the so-called Black churches were spouting to tithe-offering individuals who love God as much as other fellow Christians.  This judgmental attack is why churches are behind the curve on HIV/AIDS prevention.  This promotes ignorance and stigma.  Once again, I had to bounce back and know for myself that God is Love. 

CARLTON SMITH  the one
     Even though I saw death all around me, I didn’t succumb to the illnesses that plagued many of my associates and friends. I had the will and the power to survive!!   This was the result of many years of process and sharing my stories about living with HIV to many groups. 

     And, having a HERO (Health Education Resource Organization) buddy give me support enabled me to soldier on.  The information and resources I obtained through the support of others empowered me to become an advocate and a leader.   I found strength in discussing my status as “Heaven In View” (HIV)–and encouraging others to do the same.  Meeting esteemed individuals including A. Cornelius Baker (National Association of People with AIDS, NAPWA), Bishop Cheeks (Inner Life Ministries) and Marlon Riggs (director of the film “Tongues Untied”) also was empowering.  

     All of this assisted me in bolstering my self-identity and self-esteem to later establish a purpose of survival in a culture where Black men and women were being accosted by media outlets for the high incidences of HIV/AIDS. This “scarlet letter” of affliction had penetrated the inner circle of the Black community.

     Through advocacy groups, Black SGL men and some Black women made a declaration to fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities.  As a result, these minority leader activists created a purpose for community-based organizations whose main purpose was to disseminate information about prevention and treatment during the third wave of the epidemic. These national and local organizations (National Minority AIDS Council, NAPWA, etc.) created the groundwork for many to raise their voices.

     Not being called a victim of the epidemic became the cornerstone of empowering many individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  The death of Ryan White  was the impetus for Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Legislation, the largest Federal program focused exclusively on providing HIV care and treatment services to people living with HIV.  White was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984.  He later died from the disease.

     Today, I have become that advocate, policy maker and community leader/ stakeholder for many individuals across the country.  As an activist, a champion, and a fighter, I’m one who dared to care for the community and give himself to that community. 

     Being stigmatized gradually guided me to my passion to keep myself healthy. It is the love of God that has sustained me and allows me to serve humanity with divine purpose.                                                

His Royal Highness,

Duchess


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Conversations With The Duchess

“Remembering a Musical Genius: Prince Rocks Us with ‘Pop Life’ to Pop Culture” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith

     Greetings!  First, I want to give a shout out to Wyatt O’ Brian Evans for such an amazing opportunity to write this column for his extensive fan base.

     My nickname is “Duchess,” which was given to me by one of my lifelong friends who, unfortunately, succumbed to AIDS. As you read my bio at the end of this column, you will have the opportunity to review some of my accomplishments within the African American LGBT/SGL (same gender loving) community.

     For me, writing assists in putting my rapid thought process in concrete form.  And, it’s very therapeutic!  And like music, writing is “food for the soul.”  

     And like you, I also was saddened by the recent passing of the man who was formerly known as Prince.  Many of his fans were heartbroken with grief, and saddened by the unexpected death of this multi-talented artist and the music he left behind. However, we will to continue to remember his legacy.

     In fact, many of us recall when Prince first burst upon the scene with his provocative and erotic messages, which caused “parental consent” stickers to be placed on his succeeding albums.   I remembered when I was “coming out” of the closet, and the “Controversy” video was getting it’s gyrations on MTV during the 80’s.   

     I mean, could you believe it?  This small framed man dressed in Edwardian fashion, wearing women’s pumps, who was slightly clothed in lingerie and leading a band called the Revolution. His lyrics baptized and mesmerized you with this new gothic, funky beat.

     And let’s not forget the unforgettable, “Am I black or white?  Am I straight or gay?”   He was questioning our ethnic background with the temptation of our sexual orientation, along with the spellbinding Lord’s Prayer–in a salacious nightclub setting. The conversation about his song definitely pushed the envelope, which caused his video to be shown as late night adult entertainment. This was just the beginning of His Royal Badness crossing over into the mainstream media.

Prince

     In the spring of 1984, just one year before I graduated from Morgan State University, Prince introduced the world to what is now his signature album, “Purple Rain,”— as well as the song of the same name.   I remembered such tunes as “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” receiving much rotation on major radio stations, VH1 and MTV. It wouldn’t be Prince not to include exotic songs like “Darling Nikki” and “Erotic City” to keep up the tempo of the 80’s sexual revolution.

     Meanwhile, many artists were expressing their androgynous style on videos and television.  For example, there was Culture Club with their own outrageous Boy George singing “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” and Madonna crooning, “Justify My Love.” These artists were pushing the envelope–as well as our sexual imagination. What used to be censored is now being shown during VH1/MTV daytime rotations.

     In fact, the “Prince-inspired” sexual and Cultural Revolution gave birth to the Stonewall Anniversary Rally and the LGBTQ marches on Washington in the 80’s and 90’s. His songs would influence so many people, as well as myself.  I was especially “tinkering around” my own sexual orientation and impulsiveness toward black SGL men.  I, too, was “coming out” in such a way that produced radical changes in my life–and the people with whom I have associated from college to later life. This, too, were the “Sign o’ the Times,” another album Prince released in 1987.  It spoke to social and cultural norms, health disparities, the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community, and drug trafficking—including the use of heroin/crack in poverty-stricken communities.

     Prince was like a scriptural prophet who was given historical revelations about the oneness of humankind. Truly, he was that creative visionary and genius who challenged many of us to think differently about who we were and how we engaged in society.

     Prince produced more than three decades of discographies that shined a bright light on raw sexuality and scriptural contemplation.  As well, he had written and produced songs for many artists who had just gotten their starts in the music industry, including his proteges Sheila E, The Time and Vanity 6.

     Lastly, I remembered his exclusive interview with Ebony magazine in July 2010, written by Harriette Cole.  During that interview, he was at the “ageless age” of 52. 

     Prince discussed his profound love of God, his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, and his acknowledgement of studying the bible.  In that interview, he  spoke of his tutelage of music legend Larry Graham, who also was a devout Jehovah’s Witness.  I was somewhat astonished by his truth about God and his relationship with people.  He commented, “Keep your friends close–and your teachers closer.”  Profound, indeed.

     On this past April 21st, the Artist Known as Prince Rogers Nelson made transition from earth into afterworld. We remember a legend. Musical polymath, prolific singer, songwriter, virtuoso guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. Film star. Oscar winner. Prince was truly one of a kind. After all, he’ll be the only one that knows sometimes it snows in April!  Thank you, Prince. There will never be another one like you in your little Red Corvette…

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

CARLTON SMITH  the one


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.