Urvashi Vaid, influential LGBTQ activist and leader, dies at 63

Loved ones and members of queer activist communities are mourning the sudden passing of pioneering LGBTQ Indian American activist, attorney and author Urvashi Vaid.

Vaid, 63, died from cancer at a hospital in New York City on May 14, according to a news release from the National LGBTQ Task Force. Vaid’s sudden death was also confirmed by people close to Kate Clinton, her life partner of 33 years.

Vaid was 7 years old when she and her family moved from New Delhi to upstate New York in 1966.

She started engaging in political activism at a young age while studying at Vassar College. She went on to acquire her law degree at Northeastern University School of Law before starting her career as a staff attorney at the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

After serving in different positions at the National LGBTQ Task Force, the openly lesbian activist became the first woman executive director of the organization from 1989 to 1992.

Among her initiatives was creating the Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, which is now in its 34th year.

After her tenure at the Task Force, Vaid proceeded to create or join other organizations as a member or leader, including the Donors of Color Network, the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network and the National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Equality Federation and the National Religious Leadership Roundtable. 

Vaid authored several books, including the award-winning “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 co-edited the anthology “Creating Change: Public Policy, Sexuality and Civil Rights” with John D’Emilio and William Turner in 2000. She also wrote numerous articles and essays as a columnist for The Advocate.

From 2004 to 2014, Vaid served on the board of the Gill Foundation. She launched LPAC (Lesbian Political Action Committee) in 2012 and the National LGBTQ+ Women’s Community Survey in early 2022. 

As a founding board member of the American LGBTQ+ Museum, Vaid was instrumental in its early development.

In mourning her loss, queer activists hailed Vaid’s numerous contributions to advancing the LGBTQ-plus communities in the U.S. and India.

LGBTQ Indian American activist Neena Hemmady, who closely followed Vaid’s work, wrote in a Facebook post that the community has lost a “giant” who was the “fire and the brains and the heart behind countless things.”

Sandip Roy, a former editor of queer magazine Trikone, remembered how Vaid was generous with her time and attention to other activists.

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, Roy wrote: “Even with her immensely busy schedule as head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Urvashi Vaid was always so generous with her time and unstinting in her support for the fledgling South Asian LGBTQ+ movement in the USA.”

Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, who worked alongside Vaid in the queer movement, called her a “visionary” and described her as “brilliant, hilarious, charismatic, loving, determined and, above all, courageous.”

Singer Melissa Etheridge, who considered Vaid a very good friend, said on Twitter that Vaid “was such a positive force that will be so missed.”

“I would really like us to do two things,” Vaid told the Huffington Post in 2014. “One is to take care of the parts of our community that are less powerful. The second thing I would love to see happen is for the LGBT community to use its political power and access to create a more just society for all.”

 

Featured Image via Auburn Seminary (left), GLAD Law (right)

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