Sue Carter was born in Washington D.C. in 1947, but was raised and still resides in Toledo. The decades following her birth marked a critical shift in American society and politics. Sue grew up in a newly integrated America, coming out of the Cold War and entering the war in Vietnam. She grew up during the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. A new America was coming into being, with social justice reform at the forefront. Sue’s desire for equality for everyone was shaped in these years, originating from her mother. Though not an activist in the traditional sense – the kind that Sue came to be – her mother was a socially conscious woman and an avid Democratic voter. During the McCarthy hearings in the mid-1950s, Sue’s mother sat her down in front of the old Philco black and white TV, pointing out Senator Joe McCarthy to show her what a genuinely frightful man looked like. That lesson stayed with her, as did the more positive examples like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. courageously leading civil rights marches.
Sue attended the University of Toledo for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. With her bachelor’s degree in art, Sue worked for department stores Sears Roebuck and the J.L. Hudson Company, in their display departments. She was the only woman in a department full of gay men, whom she loved dearly. It was at J.L. Hudson Company in the 1980s where Sue first encountered HIV/AIDS, the disease that she ended up dedicating her career to. It was the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the loss of her boss and her best friend to the disease that inspired her to go back to the University of Toledo to get her master’s degree in counseling. She soon became a counselor for HIV/AIDS patients with the Ryan White Program at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
Sue’s first protest was in 1981 and she continues to raise her voice loudly and frequently to oppose injustice whenever she sees it. She even met her husband, Mike, at a protest. She has been a part of many organizations and movements over the years, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Nuclear Freeze Movement, Veterans for Peace, NOVA (NOVA means No One’s Victory Alone, Toledo’s Buddy Program for people with AIDS), David’s House, Toledoans Against the Death Penalty, the labor movement, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie.
Sue joined the ACLU in the late 1980’s, and quickly became a leader with the Northwest Ohio Chapter. She sought to combat the patterns of injustice she could see throughout society. “The Bill of Rights just seemed to make so much sense,” she recalls. “And besides, I never liked a bully.”
In 1992, Sue joined the ACLU of Ohio Board of Directors, and served as president from 1999-2009. In total, she served on the board 25 years, until 2018. “I have no intention of going quietly into that good night,” she says. “I will be active, angry, outraged and ever involved with the Ohio ACLU, its battles and successes.”
Watch Sue’s oral history interview.