Longtime LGBTQ activist and journalist Maxsonn "Max" Smith died Feb. 9 due to complications from the stroke he suffered in early 2021 and COVID-19. He was 67.
Smith was born April 4, 1954, in Hickory, North Carolina and graduated from Jefferson City High School in Jefferson City, Missouri. He received his bachelor's degree in communication arts from Michigan State University in 1976 and moved to Chicago shortly after he graduatedas an out gay man. During Smith's junior and senior years in college, he was the president of Michigan State Gay Liberation (now known as the Alliance of Queer and Ally Students).
When Smith arrived in Chicago, he began working in the real estate advertising sales department of the Chicago Tribune and, later, at Time-Life.
Smith was also a writer for this publication and the now-defunct BLACKlines, Identity, BLK and Blacklight magazines and the Habari Daftari National Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays (NCBLG) newsletter. (BLACKlines and Identity were under the Windy City Media Group umbrella.) His writings were also featured in the book anthology In the Life. Additionally, Smith edited the Black men's same-gender-loving relationships bookStaying Power! and self-published the book African American's 3rd Rail: SGL, about the intersection of racism and homophobia.
Smith's many forays into LGBTQ activism included being the NCBLG Chicago chapter founder and Illinois Gay and Lesbian Rights Task Force treasurer (now-defunct organizations), United Faith Affinitas Church organizer and Lighthouse Church of Chicago founding member. He was also a member of Adodi Chicago, Black Bible Study Group, BROTHERRS, Church of the Open Door, Committee to Increase Black Lesbian/Gay Awareness, Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church, National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum, and the Third World Gay and Lesbian Christian Conference.
He also participated in the concurrent Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in October 1979.
Smith was inducted into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame in 1991 (the year of its inception) and interviewed for Tracy Baim's now-defunct Chicago Gay History website project.
According to the Hall of Fame biography of Smith, he also challenged Operation PUSH and the NAACP to be LGBTQ-friendly in their actions and statements. The biography also stated that his home "was the place of refuge he built for Black same-gender-loving men in Chicago experiencing homelessness. Over the years, he gave shelter to dozens of Black SGL men including [Black] LGBTQ+ immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Many of the people Max helped now have their own homes and are living fulfilling lives."
Smith is survived his sister Joyce Hooks, cousin Phyllis Razeeq and countless chosen family members and friends.
"Max supported my bid to become the first full-time executive director for NCBLG in 1984," said national LGBTQ leader in the 1980s and longtime friend Gil Gerald. "He would privately inquire about my health and wellbeing. Max was gentle and caring. I remember a very specific conversation we had on the sidewalk in the spring of 1983 when the board had met at my home and endorsed the 20th anniversary Celebration of the March for Jobs Peace and Freedom. It was also the day that I shared to a gathered and mostly disbelieving Black LGBT community the earliest CDC published report on HIV/AIDS' alarming disparities in the Black community. Max was a tall, calming big brother to me, even though he was younger by a little more than three years. He carried himself with a calming and assuring dignity. I trusted his judgment. If Max approved, I was on the right track. Godspeed Max, the ancestors rejoice."
"So much of what Max did in his life was motivated by enlightening others through information and helping people in need," said longtime friend Otis Richardson. "I first met Max in the early 1990s when I was working to organize a panel discussion about sexuality and the Bible. Max was well versed in challenging scriptures used to demonize the LGBTQ community. Max continued this focus as a founding member of Brothers of the Open Door, the men's ministry of Church of the Open Door. I worked with Max on the books Staying Power and American's 3rd Rail: SGL. He really wanted to educate people on race, faith and sexual identity.
"For many years, Max opened his home for his annual Thanksgiving potluck. For those of us with family out of state, it was an affirming and joyful gathering for same gender loving men to spend the holidays. Max was always doing selfless things to bring people together."
"When you talk about Max there is a certain reverence you must consider he did so much for anyone he connected with," said longtime friend Israel Wright. "We had the opportunity to spend wonderful moments together. Listing a few organizations of connections would include Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, ADODI, Chicago Black Lesbians and Gays, Onyx, and IML. I could always rely on Max to open his home for group gatherings while sharing a meal. I especially remember the potlucks he hosted and the lively conversations, sometimes combative, that we had at his table."
"Max has been welcomed into the arms of the ancestors," said longtime friend Charles Nelson. "Ado Max blessed our lives most dearly as a member of ADODI. An early 1990s initiate to the Tribe of ADODI, Max served as the Facilitator of ADODI Chicago for many years. As the chapter's current facilitator, I Ado Centu' Charles recall memories of IBAYE Max protesting white gay clubs for their disparate treatment of Black patrons. ADODI Chicago enjoyed many potluck dinners at Max's home. He reliably welcomed brothers to his house for Thanksgiving dinner, committed to ensuring that no one spent the holiday alone.
"A man of faith, IBAYE Max enjoyed hosting Bible study at his home to discuss his interpretation of what the Bible says about gay and lesbian people. Right before he died, several members of ADODI were blessed to have a final zoom call with IBAYE Max and his extended family. We sang, 'We Will Cherish ADODI Where We Go,' with IBAYE Max's gentle acknowledgement from his hospital bed. He now rests in sweet, eternal peace. Our beloved brother has taken his rightful place among the celestial council of the IBAYE. We will formally acknowledge him this summer at our Annual Tribute to the Ancestors Ceremony. We will forever remember his passionate spirit, intellectual genius, his inviting smile, and loving heart. Rest well, dear brother."
Smith's "Celebration of Life" service will be held Saturday, March 5, 1-5 p.m. at Lighthouse Church of Chicago UCC, nested inside St. Paul's UCC at 2335 N. Orchard St. The service will include a viewing, funeral and repast.
Organizers ask that everyone who plans to attend the service register at docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSchHy-p9kW2DdeY3CHxJ-Ks9pBsNez1dSb0McxDazIm1XAucA/viewform . Masks will be required due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For those who cannot attend, service will also be streamed on Lighthouse's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/LighthouseCChi .