April 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Local community mourns death of ‘committed advocate’

Local LGBT community members are in mourning after the passing of a D.C. activist who was known as a “committed advocate” for those in need.

Charlotte Smallwood (photo courtest Courtney Williams)

Charlotte Smallwood, 73 and a local lesbian activist, died Monday after a battle with brain cancer.

Following her retirement from the federal government, Smallwood was known for her activism in the LGBT community. One of four founding members of the D.C.-based Transgender Health Empowerment in 1995, Smallwood was also editor-in-chief of FEMAIL Monthly Newsletter and later co-editor of Community Life Newsletter.

Earline Budd, a treatment and healing specialist for Transgender Health Empowerment, recalled Smallwood as a steadfast ally to the transgender community and “just a pioneer in her own way in terms of giving back.”

“She was just a committed advocate, someone who gave herself to not just LGBT community, but to other communities,” she said. “I kind of equate Charlotte to a Mother Teresa in terms of how she extended herself.”

Budd said other duties to which Smallwood devoted herself were involvement with the Mautner Project, a lesbian health organization, and Women in the Life, a local lesbians of color organization. Budd said Smallwood was a standing member with Transgender Health Empowerment until her death.

Courtney Williams, a D.C. resident, also had fond memories of Smallwood and said she was committed to the concerns of women and LGBT people as they aged.

“Basically, when people go out to party and as they get older people tend  to forgot about them — Charlotte kept them out at the forefront,” Williams said. “She was involved in her neighborhood as senior citizens were concerned. She really helped them out and tried to find them resources.”

Williams said Smallwood was also “very involved” in D.C. Black Pride in the very beginnings of the annual events in 1991.

Smallwood also contributed to the Human Rights Campaign. Donna Payne, HRC’s associate director of diversity, said Smallwood volunteered for the organization’s national dinner for the past four years.

“Annually, she would help do work no one wants to do — stuffing the gift bags and setting up items for the auction,” Payne said. “She would stay in the back so things would get done.”

Payne said she knew Smallwood from the community meetings with the D.C. mayor’s office liaison and dances for the black women’s circuit in the district.

“She was always fun to be with because she didn’t mind being out,” Payne said. “It’s hard to find black LGBT seniors that are willing to be out.”

At her early years at HRC, Payne said Smallwood would often take her aside and encourage her “to stay focused on our rights because it was expected of her and the elder black LGBT community.”

Vicki Harris, a lesbian D.C. resident, said Smallwood was “always there for everybody,” especially those in need of assistance.

“Whatever you needed, you could call Charlotte,” she said. “She was just that type of person. It was just hilarious that whatever you needed for her, she had it in her. She had our back every last day of the month.”

Harris, who ran a lesbian women’s strippers event for the Edge/Wet Nightclub when it was in existence, recalled with humor how Smallwood had a job as a dressing room attendant to keep an eye on the belongings of women as they performed.

“When I first asked her if she would do the job, she was like, ‘Ehhh,’” Harris said. “So, we’re standing in the dressing room — and one of the girls had just come out of the shower and they were naked — and she looked at me and said, ‘I’ll take the job!’”

A funeral service for Smallwood will is scheduled for Monday at the Moiunt Pleasant Baptist Church at 215 Rhode Island Ave., NW. The viewing is set to take place at 10 am and services with begin at 11 am. A repast will be provided at the church following the burial.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Charlotte was one of the warm, giving, community members involved in everything from multiple church communities to the lesbian and bisexual community to the annual Best of Washington picnics. It is not going to be easy to imagine this town with her.

    • A Dear Friend and a Champion for the cause of equality, Charlotte Smallwood, Rest in peace my sister….May Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest. I will miss you, my friend.

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