Guided by her family’s values, Colevia Carter has contributed to just about every aspect of the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C.—as an educator, organizer, service provider, poet and musician, political activist—since arriving here in 1975.
Carters’s activism was an extension of her very personal involvement and commitment to the community. After coming to D.C., she experienced a “second life” when she moved into a group house in Mt. Pleasant and discovered the vibrant and supportive lesbian community. In short order, she played percussion with the women’s band Hysteria; wrote and performed poetry at the DC Women’s Center on M Street; contributed to BlackLight, the audio book Jumping to Conclusions, and the anthologies Lesbian Culture: the lives, work, ideas, art and visions of lesbians past and present and The Colors of Love: The Black Person’s Guide to Interracial Relationships; performed in Chasen Gaver’s Standing in Shadows (with Chasen) at the National Theater; and was an active member of the Lesbian Feminist Network.
“I never thought of myself as an activist. I did what I thought was necessary to promote community spirit at the time and so joined in efforts to advance the spirit of community responsiveness that was instilled in me by my parents and grandparents,” she told Rainbow History Project.
In the mid 1970s, when Lilli Vincenz’s monthly Gay Women’s Open House needed a contact person for women of color to talk to, Carter stepped forward. In the late 1970s, when the Sapphire Sapphos were forming, she chaired their political action committee. Carter was, of course, actively involved with the LGBT Third World Conference held at Howard University in 1979 and with the DC Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (co-publishing the coalition newsletter) and was an executive board member of the National Association of Black Lesbians and Gays.
In 1982, when it became clear that the existing gay Democratic Party in Washington, D.C. had yet to understand that the LGBTQ community extended beyond white gay men in Dupont Circle, Carter, along with Mel Boozer, Clint Hockenberry, A. Billy S. Jones, and others, formed the Langston Hughes-Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, which she co-chaired.
In 1982 and 1983, when her friend Chasen Gaver made her aware of a new disease that was killing gay men, Carter began educational programs for inmates in Lorton, Virginia and other D.C. area corrections facilities, where she worked. In 1984, she organized the first D.C. conference on Women and HIV/AIDS. Carter took a six-month leave of absence from her job to work on the Minority HIV-AIDS Spectrum/Alianza Project. She was the outreach coordinator for IV drug users and women in the sex industry, recruiting and paying stipends to volunteers for street outreach. At the same time, she was co-chair of Whitman-Walker Clinic AIDS Education. In 1992, after 19 years of developing and delivering community resources to inmates within the Department of Corrections, Carter moved to the D.C. Department of Health, where she was appointed D.C. State Adolescent Health Coordinator and directed the Synergy Adolescent Health Project, which focused on HIV/AIDS programs for children, adolescents, and women.
Impressed by her wide connections around the city and ability to bring disparate people together, in 1982 Marion Barry appointed Carter to the D.C. Human Rights Commission, on which she served for five years and was the first open lesbian commissioner. She also was a committee member of the D.C. Women’s Commission and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Commission.
Though Carter has curtailed some of her day-to-day community activities in recent years, as an openly lesbian civil servant, she continued to use her position for over 38 years to ensure the responsiveness of government to the needs and civil rights of lesbian and gay men. Carter remains a go-to person when others needed advice on how to bring diverse people on board for projects vital not just to the LGBTQ community, but to the entire Washington, D.C. community.