Activism

Urvashi Vaid, ‘giant in the fight for LGBTQ+ freedom’, dies aged 63: ‘We owe her an enormous debt’

Chisom Peter Job May 17, 2022
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Urvashi Vaid during amfAR's "Honoring With Pride" Benefit at Chelsea Piers in New York City, New York, United States. (WireImage/J. Vespa)

Urvashi Vaid, the formidable LGBTQ+ rights activist, has died at age 63.

According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, Vaid died of cancer on 14 May at her home in New York City.

“Urvashi Vaid was a leader, a warrior and a force to be reckoned with,” said Kierra Johnson, current executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

“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.”

“The world has lost a giant in the movement for LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality,” added Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L Jean.

Vaid was an activist, author and lawyer. She was an aunt to the writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon, and is survived by her partner, political humorist Kate Clinton.

She served as executive director to what was then known as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, between 1989 to 1992.

Much of her work at the time was focused on the AIDS crisis, and in 1990, she caused a national stir during an address by George H.W. Bush on the topic.

She was removed by police, after holding up a sign that read “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding is Not”.

After stepping down from the group, Vaid wrote her 1995 book, Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation.

In it, she argued that the LGBTQ+ community must push for fundamental change rather than simple “tolerance”, a view she held deeply.

Lorri L Jean, of the Los Angeles LGBT Centre, said: “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 color and against poverty. She continued her work to advance equity and justice until the very end.”

“I’ll always be grateful to Urv for being one of the people who encouraged me, back in 1992, to accept the job running the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And when the National LGBTQ Task Force faced severe financial challenges in 2001, she played the key role in recruiting me to step in and help turn things around, lending her support every step of the way.

“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 organizing the angels.”

As the president of Vaid Group LLC, Vaid worked with social justice innovators, movements and organisations to address structural inequalities based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, gender and economic status.

From 2005 to 2010, she served as executive director of the Arcus Foundation, a global funder of LGBT+ social justice.

In 2012, Vaid founded LPAC, the first lesbian Super PAC, which has since invested millions of dollars in candidates who are committed to social justice through legislation.

And between 2011 to 2015, she was director of the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, focusing on the way tradition is used in movements for gender and sexuality to inform, enable or limit the movement. 

 

She won multiple awards for her contribution towards the fight of LGBT+ rights, including the 2015 GLAD Spirit Justice Award.

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