Longtime deputy director began as lobbyist in 2003, says he became hooked after meeting with legislator who’d been his 8th-grade teacher
Nine years ago, Chuck Smith began working for Equality Texas as a volunteer lobbyist focused on foster care and adoption.
Smith’s role led to a meeting with former state Rep. Carter Casteel, who had been his eighth-grade social studies teacher.
Smith said the experience of coming out to a lawmaker he personally knew helped him change minds. And he was hooked.
“I wasn’t out when I was in junior high and it was on some levels coming out to a former teacher who was now a state representative, and we had extended conversations about foster care and adoption and marriage,” he said. “I left there basically hooked on the process because it was clearly evident that having that sort of face-to-face conversation with an elected official had the ability to not only to educate but over time to change hearts and minds.”
Smith, who became Equality Texas’ deputy executive director in 2005, was named the statewide LGBT advocacy organization’s new executive director last week.
Smith served as deputy executive director from 2005 until he was named interim executive director in August, when former Executive Director Dennis Coleman resigned.
He’s balanced his role as deputy executive director with the executive director’s responsibilities the last few months. He was named executive director on Nov. 3.
Smith said his appointment wasn’t a surprise because of his long history with the organization –– he’ll mark 10 years in March — but he’s excited to watch Equality Texas grow under his leadership.
“I’m very excited, I’m honored. I know the organization and have worked with the organization,” he said. “I’m happy with the selection and honored by their [board members’] confidence in me and look forward to diving in and moving forward and moving upward.”
Smith plans to shift Equality Texas’ focus more toward funding, fieldwork and community engagement. As such, he doesn’t plan on hiring a deputy executive director anytime soon. Instead, he’ll look to fill two positions for fundraising and field development within the next few months.
“I will be doing an analysis of looking at what our strategic goals and needs are, and it is more likely that those positions will be more related to fund development and field organizing,” he said.
Smith said the operating budget for the upcoming year is still being finalized, as well as the organization’s legislative agenda and field plans, which are “driving what the most positions will be at a staff level in order to give us the capacity to do our work.”
And he’ll balance both the executive director and deputy positions just as he has during the last few months.
“Much of what I was doing before, I will continue to do, as well as the additional work of being in more direct contact with the Board of Directors,” he said.
“There’s not that much change in terms of the day-to-day responsibilities of what I have been doing for the last several months.”
Anne Wynne, chair of the Equality Texas Board of Directors, said she was pleased with Smith’s appointment and is excited to see what he will help the organization accomplish in the future.
“I hope that we keeping moving in the direction we’re headed right now, which is more equality for LGBT Texans,” she said.
Wynne said the search committee narrowed down the applicants for a vote from the Equality Texas and Equality Texas Foundation boards. She said the vote for Smith was unanimous, illustrating his commitment and success with the organization.
Smith will spend the next two months traveling across the state to meet donors and potential supporters to raise awareness for Equality Texas’ causes, of which a statewide Employment Non-Discrimination Act and accurate birth certificate for same-sex couples remain priorities.
The biggest changes he said people will see within the organization is more strategic planning and growth, adding more board members and engaging LGBT citizens and allies.
“In order to be the statewide LGBT advocacy organization in a state as big as Texas, Equality Texas needs to have a greater capacity and presence than we do right now,” he said.
“We need to reflect where public opinion and where the public is moving in our state and a lot more people are supportive of what we are trying to do than what are currently directly engaged in our work. And if we can get them directly engaged in that work, then I think that will speed up the process of having elected officials having the comfort level to change public policy to eliminate discrimination.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 9, 2012.