Carla Smith was full of excitement as she exited the train in the West Village. As she approached the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street, she paused to take a picture of the flag hanging outside.
“It felt like I [was] coming home,” Smith told Gay City News.
The Center on Dec. 7 announced Smith would become its next chief executive officer, taking over from Glennda Testone, who served in the role for the past 14 years. Smith, an out lesbian and the first person of color to head The Center, is currently the deputy chief executive officer at Urban Resource Institute (URI), the United States’ largest provider of domestic violence shelter services, which serves more than 20 shelters across New York City. She previously worked at Housing Works and the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Her first official day at The Center will be Feb. 12, 2024.
For the past 40 years The Center has provided vital services to New York City’s LGBTQ community, from hosting workshops to mental health counseling to support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Smith holds a Doctorate in education. Her dissertation was focused on “Examining Shelter Access Barriers for Transgender Identified Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence.”
Throughout her career, Smith said, she has prioritized creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ people who need to access social services.
“I’m bringing that sort of understanding and commitment,” she said. “I am committed to creating what I’ve called transformational spaces and experiences. I want people to feel welcomed [and] this space at the center is such an affirming space.”
Smith said she wants to “advocate for access to systems and spaces, and to increase safety for our community” given that the LGBTQ community “experiences significant amounts of violence, whether it be hate violence, intimate partner violence [or] sexual violence.”
Smith said The Center holds a special place for her because it was where she went to build community when she first moved to New York City from Boston for a job at Housing Works.
Testone celebrated Smith’s appointment. In a statement, she said “her experience, skills, and commitment to our mission are truly inspiring. I’m confident she will positively impact New York’s LGBTQ+ community as she leads this organization into its next chapter.”
Smith is ready to get to work, saying she has “tons of ideas,” but her first priority will be “to listen, and to understand, not just from a staffing perspective and a board perspective, but from a community perspective — what is the community looking for?” Fom there, she plans to develop a strategic action plan.