Urvashi Vaid, a longtime Indian-American activist who led several LGBTQ+ and other social justice organisations, died at 63 on 14 May 2022 after battling cancer in New York.
"By aspiring to join the mainstream rather than figuring out the ways we need to change it, we risk loosing our gay and lesbian souls in order to gain the world,” she once said, inspiring a generation of LGBTQIA+ members and allies.
Who is Urvashi Vaid?
Born in New Delhi, India, on 8 October, 1958, Urvashi's father Krishna Baldev Vaid was appointed to teach at the State University of New York at Potsdam when she was a young. Her mother, Champa Bali Vaid, who was a poet and painter, soon followed her husband along with Urvashi and her sisters.
Urvashi graduated from Vassar College in 1979 with a degree in political science and English literature.
Later a graduate of Northeastern University School of Law, Vaid began her legal career as a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, where she spearheaded the organisation's work on HIV and AIDS in prisons.
Vaid, a Ray of Hope for the LGBTQ+ Community
From 1989 until 1992, Vaid served as the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
“A purely single-issue organising approach prevents us from making the connections that would advance our goals and would advance the project of building a progressive movement,” she told The Progressive magazine in 1996.
She worked for the Task Force for ten years in various capacities. She made a statement during President George HW Bush's AIDS speech in 1990 as its executive director, holding a banner that said, "Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not." Her remark caused a stir, upsetting the media briefing and exposing the Bush administration's shortcomings.
She was also a published author and scholar who had received several awards. Her published work includes books, reports, essays, and columns. She was a columnist for The Advocate for numerous years as well.
Vaid co-edited Creating Change: Public Policy, Sexuality, and Civil Rights with John D'Emilio and William Turner in 2000.
"The movement's goal should be fundamental, tangible change, not tolerance," she asserted. It wasn't an instantly popular idea at the time, since the media portrayal of LGBTQIA+ people was only preparing to take shape, but it was a moral imperative for her.
Role in Heralding Inclusivity
According to the Task Force's press release, she "brought all facets of gay existence and hardship into the public view". She co-founded the conference, which is already in its 33rd year.
From 2001 to 2005, she was deputy director of the Ford Foundation's Governance and Civil Society Unit, and from 2004 to 2014, she joined the board of the Gill Foundation.
From 2005 until 2010, Vaid served as executive director of the Arcus Foundation, a global financier of LGBTQ social rights and significant ape conservation.
She founded the first lesbian super political arm of the Congressional (PAC), LGBTQ political arm of the Congressional (LPAC), in 2012, and it has subsequently invested massive amounts of money in politicians that support social justice legislation.
In 2014, she won the GLAD spirit of Justice award, where she talks about the LGBTQ community to oppose the false propaganda with it's pessimistic ideologies, meant to divide and conquer with their generative energy.
She served as interim President of the Vaid Group LLC from 2015 till the present.
She had been a senior fellow and head of the Engaging Tradition Project at Columbia Law School's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, where she investigated how tradition-based resistance stymies efforts aimed at advancing gender, sexual, and racial fairness. She was formerly a senior fellow at the Graduate Center's Social Justice Sexuality Project.