October 8, 1958 – Urvashi Vaid:
“Gay people do not fight for freedom to live in a lavender bubble, but in a more just society.”
After the release of her book Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class And The Assumptions Of LGBT Politics (2012), Vaid said in an interview that her biggest fear was that LGBTQ communities would get preoccupied by the wins in the fight for marriage equality and slow down the movement. She argued for a more inclusive movement, one that would encompass everyone regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, or ability.
“One is to take care of the parts of our community that are less powerful. That means low-income LGBT people, transgender people and our community’s women, whose rights are getting the crap kicked out of them, parts of our community across the board: kids, old gay people.”
Born in India, Vaid moved with her family to the United States of America when she was eight-years-old. She was politically active in her teens, protesting against the war in Vietnam, then when she attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, she grew active in a variety of feminist and human rights causes. She received her law degree from Northeastern University in Boston, where in 1983, she founded The Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, a non-partisan political organization that interviews and endorses candidates for political office and advocates for the Boston LGBTQ community.
Her first work as a lawyer was done for the ACLU and other advocacy groups, strengthening support for disenfranchised Americans. At the ACLU, her biggest issue was better prison conditions. Her involvement with the LGBQT movement led her to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which was founded in 1973. Among the founders were Broadway producer Robert L. Livingston, and his husband Tom Ellis, Father Robert Carter, historian Martin Duberman, and activist Frank Kameny.
Vaid took over leadership of the NGLTF’s Policy Institute in 1989 and built the NGLTF into one the nation’s best gay rights organizations. She served as the organization’s executive director for three years. She pushed LGBTQ issues into the public eye through savvy media manipulation and she helped organize successful protests for Women’s Health and against the Persian Gulf War.
“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.”
She famously interrupted George H.W. Bush‘s very first policy speech by holding up a sign about HIV/AIDS funding. Her wife, then her longtime partner, comedian Kate Clinton, joked:
“Urvashi is a woman who thinks a bullhorn is a sexual device”.
In 1992 she left the NGLTF to write her book Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming Of Gay And Lesbian Liberation (1996) where she is critical of assimilation, saying that it provides the semblance of equality in a system that is founded on oppression. The book also highlights connections between LGBTQ rights, racism, sexism, and economic justice.
Vaid returned to the NGLTF in 1997 and then was hired at the Ford Foundation, the largest, and one of the most influential foundations in the world, with global reach and special interests in economic empowerment, education, human rights, democracy, the creative arts, and Third World development. Vaid served as deputy director of the Program for Governance and Civil Society.
In 1999 she was awarded an honorary degree from CUNY’s school of law. She has been named, in 1994, one of Time magazine’s 50 Young Leaders to Watch in the New Century. Out magazine named Vaid one of The 50 Most Influential Men and Women in America.
Gay and Sports Icon Billie Jean King established the Vaid Fellowship for people of color at the NGLTF Policy Institute in her honor.
From 2005 to 2010 she was Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, whose dual missions are, I am not making this up, rights and protections for Great Apes and LGBTQ humans. How cool is that?
She gave her first public political speech, in support of George McGovern for President, when she was 12-years-old, and she’s never stopped working for peace and social justice issues, especially for LGBTQ rights within a larger vision of fairness and equality.
Vaid and Clinton divide their time between Manhattan and Provincetown. It has to be fun to have Clinton at hand.
“Some women can’t say the word lesbian… even when their mouth is full of one.”
“Progressivism is a spectrum; it’s not an ideology following one leader saying one thing. It’s many people who have very wildly diverging opinions about many things. But, as progressives, if we could commit to a general frame of reference that we are about improving the quality of life for a lot more people, we’re about helping working and middle-class people, and we’re about taking care of poor people, we could really make some inroads in political power in this country. But, if we choose to be purists, if we choose to be arguing for a consensus we will never reach, for agreement on every point, it’s never going to happen.”