Formerly the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Urvashi Vaid was a legendary figure in US LGBTQI activism
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE VIA LAMBDA LEGAL
US LGBTQI activist Urvashi Vaid has died at her home in New York City, as confirmed by the National LGBTQ Task Force. She was 63. The executive director of the Task Force – previously known as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – from 1989 to 1992, she first joined the organisation as its media director. The National LGBTQ Task Force is the oldest national LGBTQI civil rights organisation in the US.
Born in New Delhi, India in 1958, Urvashi penned Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation in 1995 and Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics in 2012. She moved to the US with her family at the age of eight, beginning her activism at the age of 11, participating in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Whilst studying for her BA at Vassar College, she became active in socio-political activism, later receiving a Juris Doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston in 1983. Here, she went on to found the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, working alongside politicians to platform and advocate for LGBTQI rights.
As president of the Vaid Group LLC, she worked with social justice organisations to advance social, racial, gender and economic justice and reduce structural inequality. Between 2011 and 2015, she was the director of the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, further serving as executive director of the Arcus Foundation (2005-2010), deputy director of the Governance and Civil Society Unit of the Ford Foundation (2001-2005). She was on the board of the Gill Foundation from 2004 to 2014.
A staunch activist in HIV/AIDS equality, she disrupted a presidential press conference delivered by George W. Bush during her time as executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, presenting a sign with the words “Talk is Cheap, AIDS Funding is Not.” She co-founded the task force’s Creating Change conference and was staff attorney at the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Here, she initiated the organisation’s work on HIV/AIDS in prisons.
Tributes have been pouring out from across the world. Current executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Kierra Johnson states: “Urvashi Vaid was a leader, a warrior, and a force to be reckoned with. She was also a beloved colleague, friend, partner, and someone we all looked up to — a brilliant, outspoken, and deeply committed activist who wanted full justice and equality for all people.
“Her leadership, vision, and writing helped shape not only the Task Force’s values and work but our entire queer movement and the larger progressive movement,” Johnson added. “We will strive every day to live up to her ideals and model the courage she demonstrated every day as an activist and a person. She will be deeply missed. I miss her already.”
Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, remarks: “I first met Urv in the early 1980s when we were both young attorneys and lesbian activists in Washington, D.C. As we became friends and, eventually, colleagues, I admired her leadership and all that she accomplished, both within and outside of our movement— for queer people, for women, for people of colour and against poverty. She continued her work to advance equity and justice until the very end.
“Over the years, we spent many an hour laughing and scheming about ways to advance the causes we cared so deeply about. Urvashi was a visionary. But she was so much more: brilliant, hilarious, charismatic, loving, determined and, above all, courageous. She made life better for all of us. Our community and our nation owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. Our hearts go out to Urvashi’s wife, Kate Clinton, and to everyone who loves her. If there’s a heaven, Urv is already organising the angels.”
Rest In Power, Urvashi Vaid. Thank you for everything.
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