[Baltimore Sun] Carlton Ray Smith, LGBTQ+ advocate known as ‘The Duchess,’ dies

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Carlton Ray Smith, an LGBTQ+ community activist and a founder of Blaq Equity Baltimore, died May 29 at his Saint Paul Street home in Mount Vernon. He was 61.

His sister, Carlette Smith-Mitter, said a cause of death was not available.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of Cephus Smith, a Ford Motor Co. worker, and Lula Smith, a Post Office letter carrier. He was a 1981 Rahway (New Jersey) High School graduate and earned a degree in advertising from Morgan State University.

He worked for Amtrak and after returning to Baltimore embraced LGBTQ+ causes.

During the 1980s HIV epidemic, he became active with the Health Education Resource Organization (HERO), and was its board president. He was later associated with the Chase Brexton Clinic.

“Whenever there was a meeting of any sort related to HIV, he was there,” said Lynda Dee, founder of AIDS Action Baltimore. “He was involved with every important HIV issue. His claim to fame was that he was connected to many different groups. He had tentacles everywhere.

“He was known as ‘The Duchess.’ He was hilarious and a wonderful person. He never complained,” Ms. Dee said.

Phillip Westry, director of Free State Justice, said, “Carlton wanted to remove a 1989 Maryland law that criminalizes people living with HIV.  He felt it was bad for public health and that that law ignored changes in science and medical advances.”

Mr. Smith was a fixture in matters concerning HIV issues in Baltimore.

A 1996 Sun article said of the HIV Walk, “the demographics of the walk’s turnout illustrated how the image of HIV as a ‘gay disease’ has changed, with a growing awareness of its impact across the spectrum of society — regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.”

Mr. Smith was quoted in the article saying,  “HIV now involves the family.”

Carlton Ray Smith was also known as the “Mayor of Mount Vernon.” (Sloane Brown/Handout)

Said Carrietta Hiers, a friend for 25 years: “If there was an issue or cause that affected the community, Carlton was there. He embraced the entire community, not just HIV and queer issues.

“He was known as the mayor of Mount Vernon and he’d help a person facing eviction as well as testifying for women’s rights and the right to choose.”

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He was a political supporter of Maryland Sens. Mary Washington and Cory V. McCray, and former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whom he familiarly called “Madame Mayor.”

Mr. Smith was a former vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore.

He was later co-chair of the People Empowerment Committee of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council.

“Throughout my adult life in Baltimore, Carlton has been a fixture and leader in our community,” said Dr. Neal Naff, a friend and chief of neurosurgery at Sinai Hospital. “The two words I think that characterize him are ‘passion’ and ‘good cheer.’ He gave himself to the organizations that made our community a better place.”

He went on to be a co-founder of what was then the Center for Black Equity-Baltimore, now the nonprofit Blaq Equity Baltimore.

“The organization was created to ensure that the Black and brown LGBTQIA+ community had their own vehicle where they could be seen and heard,” his sister said.

In 2013 he co-organized a mass LGBTQ+ wedding in Druid Hill Park during Pride Week.

He also became a chaplain with the Baltimore City Police Department.

“Carlton lived his life unapologetically,” his sister said. “He fondly referred to himself as No. 1. He loved to cook, entertain and dance to his favorite music. Unequivocally, he loved Calvin Klein, Batman, Starbucks, the Baltimore Ravens, and the New York Yankees. He had a big personality, a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh.”

He often dressed in purple, used Calvin Klein scent and was a fan of Diana Ross, Prince and house music.

Mr. Smith was a member of the Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore and was ordained a deacon.

Survivors include his parents, Cephus and Lula Smith of North Carolina, and a sister, Carlette Smith-Mitter of New Jersey. His niece, Cetavia Mitter, died in 2020. His brother, Marc Smith, also died in 2020. His brother-in-law, Kevin Mitter, died in 2004.

Services were held June 8 at the Wylie Funeral Home.

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