Legendary attorney, activist and author Urvashi Vaid died today at her home in New York City. She was 63 years old. She is survived by her longtime partner, political humorist Kate Clinton, and activist and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon, Vaid was Vaid-Menon’s aunt.
Vaid was executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force from 1989 to 1992 and had served prior to that as media director. The Task Force’s current executive director, Kierra Johnson, today remembered Vaid as “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.”
Johnson continued, “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 I missed. I miss her already.” concluded Johnson.
At George H.W. Bush’s 1990 address on AIDS, when she was executive director of the Task Force, Vaid waves and and grabbed attention with a sign declaring “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding is Not.” “Her critique disrupted the press conference and shed light on the failures of the Bush administration,” a statement issued earlier today by the Task Force noted.
In a 2014 piece on liberation, Vaid wrote, “Equality is a fine aspiration. It’s simply not enough,” the Task Force statement said, adding that it was the “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.
During her tenure with the Task Force, Vaid co-founded the annual Creating Change conference, now in its 33rd year. In 1995, three years after she left the Task Force, Vaid 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.
According to the Task Force statement, “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.” Virtual Equality won the Stonewall Book Award in 1996.
As president of the Vaid Group, Vaid advised, mentored, and supported the LGBTQ movement, and in 2012, she launched LPAC, the first lesbian Super PAC, which has since invested millions of dollars in candidates who are committed to social justice through legislation.
Before 2012, 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 also a leader in the development of the currently on-going National LGBTQ women’s community survey.
— Tammye Nash