“I just detest the bully,” Susan Carter said. “The bully can be a system, a person, an organization that makes people feel inadequate, unequal or unloved. I’ve just got to do something about it. If you don’t speak up, you’re condoning bad behavior. And I just can’t do that.”
For the last three decades, Carter has stood up at every possible opportunity for what she believes is right. For 28 years she’s worked at the University of Toledo Medical Center’s Ryan White Clinic, helping treat people living with HIV/AIDS. She is an environmental activist working with Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. She has worked with the National Organization for Women and served as president of the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union.
And it all started with a job where she was dressing mannequins. “I got a degree in art, and I wasn’t good enough to be a starving artist,” Carter said with a laugh. “I was already working in retail, so I became a fashion coordinator for J.L. Hudson Company.”
There were very few women in Carter’s department at the time, and most of the men she worked with were gay. “They were my friends, and they taught me— this was in the 70’s, some of them were in the closet, some of them told me how their families treated them. My best friend was a gay man, we took dancing lessons together.
“As I was doing that work, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do more than dress mannequins,’” Carter said. “So I went back to school, and I got a degree— 20 years after my first degree— in 1989, I got a Masters in counseling. And then I got licensed as a counselor and as a social worker.”
Carter has worked at the Ryan White Clinic ever since. Before her best friend from her retail days passed away from complications of HIV, she personally was involved in arranging hospice care for him. She has seen firsthand the evolution of AIDS treatment— both on a societal and an individual level.
“We know for a fact that if people take their medication— and the medications are available to anyone, whether they have insurance or not— they take their medication, their virus will be non-detectable in their body and they cannot transmit HIV,” Carter said. “And they’ll live full and healthy lives.”
And when she’s not working, she’s still fighting. Whether it’s alongside her husband Mike Ferner for the Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie or during her tenure as president of the local branch of the ACLU from 1989-1999, Carter has never tired in her fight against bullies in all forms.
“Sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back. You can’t get tired, you can’t give up. And I think people who are committed to the movement never do.”
Q & A with Susan Carter
I have always wanted to… Sing in a rock and roll band, or at least play the tambourine!
What do you admire in people? I admire people who want to fight, who stand up to authority, fight for justice and not be quiet.
What is your pet peeve? Indifference to the problems that need to be solved.
What is something that most people don’t know about you? I was arrested for civil disobedience for protesting.
What are the words you live by? Silence is not acceptable.
What advice would you give to the younger you? Get involved earlier!
Who is someone you’d like to meet? Dr. King.
What inspires you now? I’m inspired by all the people I work with, both in my job and with Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. These are people who have committed themselves to something bigger than their own affairs. They’re committed to saving people and saving the planet.
What’s your favorite food? Pasta.
Favorite movie? Casablanca.
Who do you most admire? My husband, Mike Ferner.