Legendary attorney, LGBTQ activist, and author Urvashi Vaid, known for her extensive career as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, anti-war efforts, immigration justice and many other social causes, died today at age 63. She was the Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force from 1989 to 1992 and served prior to that as Media Director.
“We are devastated at the loss of one of the most influential progressive activists of our time,” said Kierra Johnson, current Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “Urvashi Vaid was a leader, a warrior and a force to be reckoned with,” continued Johnson, “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. 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.” concluded Johnson.
At George H.W. Bush’s 1990 address on AIDS, Vaid, then the Executive Director of The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, made a statement with her sign: “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding is Not”. Her critique made waves, disrupting the press conference, and shedding light on the failures of the Bush administration.
“Equality is a fine aspiration. It’s simply not enough”, she wrote in a 2014 piece on liberation. And it is a politics of liberation that shaped her career and informed her vision for the world. Vaid’s vision and passion for defending and promoting civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community led to a lifetime of changemaking.
Her time at The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in which she held multiple positions for over ten years, notably Media Director, then Executive Director, saw her bring all aspects of queer life and struggle into the public eye. While at the Task Force, she co-founded the annual Creating Change conference, now in its 33rd year.
In 1995, after resigning from her position at the Task Force three years prior, she published her first book, Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, in which she criticized the idea of “mainstreaming” what was and is, in fact, a civil rights movement. Rather than tolerance, she argued, the objective for the movement should be fundamental, actionable change. It was not an immediately popular notion, as media representation for queer people was just beginning to take shape, though it was, for her, of great moral importance. In 1996 Virtual Equality won the Stonewall Book Award.
In her position as President of the Vaid Group, Vaid advised, mentored, and supported the LGBTQ+ movement.
In 2012, Urvashi Vaid launched LPAC, the first lesbian Super PAC, and it has since invested millions of dollars in candidates who are committed to social justice through legislation. Prior to that, Vaid held positions on the boards at the Ford Foundation, The Arcus Foundation (where she served as Executive Director from 2005 to 2010), and the Gill Foundation. She was a leader in the development of the currently ongoing National LGBTQ women’s community survey.
Vaid was the aunt of activist and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon. She is survived by Alok Vaid-Menon as well as her longtime partner, political humorist Kate Clinton.