Urvashi Vaid

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Urvashi Vaid
Born(1958-10-08)8 October 1958
Died14 May 2022(2022-05-14) (aged 63)
EducationVassar College (BA)
Northeastern University (JD)
Known forCivil rights and anti-war activism
Notable workVirtual Equality (1996)
PartnerKate Clinton (1988–2022)
RelativesJyotsna Vaid (sister)
Krishna Baldev Vaid (father)
Alok Vaid-Menon (nibling)

Urvashi Vaid (8 October 1958 – 14 May 2022)[1] was an Indian-born American LGBT rights activist, lawyer, and writer. An expert in gender and sexuality law, she was a consultant in attaining specific goals of social justice. She held a series of roles at the National LGBTQ Task Force, serving as executive director from 1989-1992 — the first woman of color to lead a national gay-and-lesbian organization.[2] She is the author of Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation (1995) and Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics (2012).

Early life and education[edit]

Urvashi Vaid was born on 8 October 1958, in New Delhi, India[3] and moved to Potsdam, New York, at age eight with her family, after her father, writer Krishna Baldev Vaid, took up a university teaching position.[4] At age 11, she participated in the anti-Vietnam war movement.[5]

At Vassar College, she was active in a variety of political and social causes, including co-founding the Feminist Union on campus (in the context of Vassar's recent transition to coed) and participating in activism against apartheid.[2] She received a Juris Doctor degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston in 1983, where she founded the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, a non-partisan political organization that interviews and endorses candidates for political office and advocates for Boston's gay community.[5]


From 1983 to 1986, Vaid was staff attorney at the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she initiated the organisation's work on HIV/AIDS in prisons.[6] For more than ten years, Vaid worked in various capacities at the National LGBTQ Task Force (NGLTF), the oldest national LGBT civil rights organisation; first as its media director,[7] then as executive director (1989–1992),[8][7] and as director of its Policy Institute think-tank.[4] While executive director, Vaid disrupted a presidential press conference being made by George H. W. Bush with a sign "Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not";[8] she also co-founded the Task Force's Creating Change conference.[8]

Vaid spent ten years working in global philanthropic organisations, serving as executive director of the Arcus Foundation (2005–2010)[8] and deputy director of Governance and Civil Society Unit of the Ford Foundation (2001–2005)[8] as well as serving on the board of the Gill Foundation (2004–2014).[8] She was the Director of the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School from 2011 to 2015. The project focused on the way tradition is used in movements for gender and sexuality to inform, enable or limit the movement.[6]

Vaid was the founder of LPAC, the first lesbian Super PAC, which was launched in July 2012 and as of 2020 has invested millions of dollars in candidates who are committed to legislation promoting social justice.[8] She was founder of The Vaid Group, a social innovation consultancy that advises individuals and organisations working to advance equity, justice and inclusion globally and domestically.[6][8]

At the time of her death, Vaid was president of the Vaid Group LLC,[9] which worked with social justice innovators, movements, and organizations to address structural inequalities based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, gender, and economic status.[10]

Political activism[edit]

Vaid believed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality will occur only when the larger institutions of society and the family are transformed to be more inclusive of racial, gender, and economic difference.[11] Her book Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation (1995) won a Stonewall Book Award in 1996.[12]

Vaid at the 1993 National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change Conference

Vaid became executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) in 1989.[13] Vaid left NGLTF in December 1992 and wrote Virtual Equality (published in 1995). She returned to NGLTF from 1997 to 2001 as the director of its think tank, the NGLTF Policy Institute.[4] Vaid worked for five years at the Ford Foundation, and served as executive director of the Arcus Foundation.[14] She served on the board of the Gill Foundation from 2004 to 2014.[15] Upon the death of former president George H.W. Bush in 2018, Vaid, who had been executive director of NGLTF during his presidency, commented on the Bush's legacy regarding AIDS, saying: "If one was being charitable one could say it was a mixed legacy, but in truth it was a bad legacy of leadership ... He did not lead on AIDS."

Vaid was a staunch sexual liberationist. As Richard Burns, who had been the managing editor of the Gay Community News prior to becoming Vaid's classmate at Northeastern recalled, "If I told her about a sex club, she wanted to go, too," Burns said. "And then we did, and then we were thrown out when they discovered she was not a guy. More than once."[2] A co-worker at the National LGBTQ Task Force remembers in article in the New Yorker, "In 1990, Urvashi gave us a fisting demonstration at our Task Force staff meeting, raising her hand in the air and creating the proper form."[2]

In April 2009 Out magazine named her one of the 50 most influential LGBT people in the United States.[16]

Vaid and Kate Clinton interviewed by Laura Flanders in 2014

Vaid's book Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics (2012) critiques the racial and gender bias of the mainstream LGBT movement and continues her argument that engagement with social justice is what will enable all parts of the LGBT community to realise equality and justice.[17][18] Vaid told Curve magazine that her biggest fear was that LGBT communities would get preoccupied by the wins in the fight for marriage equality and slow down their movement. She argued for a more inclusive movement, one that would encompass everyone regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, or ability.[19]

Vaid hoped that the future of LGBT communities will accomplish two things. "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" and "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."[20]

In a conversation between Vaid and Larry Kramer in 1994, Vaid made an argument for intersectional solidarity within HIV and reproductive issues: "What if we tried to identify how [H.I.V.] treatment issues connect with racism…It’s going to express itself differently in your life than in mine . . . . That’s the issue of reproductive choice. It was never about men should march with women because they support women. It was more that men should march for reproductive freedom because we’re marching against the power of the state to tell you and me what to do sexually . . . If the state can say you can’t have an abortion, the state can say you can’t have sodomy."[2]

In an article written in 2014 for the Journal of Lesbian Studies,[21] Vaid called for a greater activist response for and by people with breast cancer. "There’s a clear need for an ACT UP type direct action movement organized around diagnosis, treatment, and care for breast cancer," she wrote. "But they are not organized to mobilize the anger and energy of breast cancer survivors and our families to pressure and demand an improvement in diagnosis technologies, in drug development, in standards of care and treatment, in health insurance coverage, for example."

Personal life[edit]

Vaid shared homes in Manhattan and Provincetown, Massachusetts, with her partner, comedian Kate Clinton.[22] She died at home from breast cancer on 14 May 2022.[23] She had previously been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.[21] Vaid was an aunt of Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender non-conforming writer, performance artist, and media personality.[24]



  • Vaid, Urvashi (1996). Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation. Anchor Books, Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47298-6.
  • Vaid, Urvashi; John D'Emilio; William B. Turner (2002). Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights. Stonewall Inn Editions. ISBN 0-312-28712-7.
  • Vaid, Urvashi (2011). Dan Savage; Terry Miller (eds.). It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. Dutton. ISBN 978-0525952336.
  • Vaid, Urvashi. (2012) Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics. Magnus Books. ISBN 978-1936833290

In popular culture[edit]

Her name appears in the lyrics of the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic".[38]


  1. ^ Ring, Trudy (14 May 2022). "Urvashi Vaid, Legendary Activist for LGBTQ+ Civil Rights, Dies at 63". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 14 May 2022. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e Gessen, Masha (24 May 2022). "The Prolific Activism of Urvashi Vaid". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  3. ^ Smith, Harrison (16 May 2022). "Urvashi Vaid, forward-thinking rights activist, dies at 63". Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  4. ^ a b c Wayne, Tiffany K. (2014). Women's Rights in the United States: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Issues, Events, and People. ABC-Clio. p. 221. ISBN 978-1610692151.
  5. ^ a b "Urvashi Vaid Biography". American Immigration Law Foundation. Archived from the original on 24 March 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.
  6. ^ a b c "About | Urvashi Vaid". 20 August 2010.
  7. ^ a b Levesque, Brody (14 May 2022). "Legendary attorney, LGBTQ+ activist, & author Urvashi Vaid has died". Los Angeles Blade. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Ring, Trudy (14 May 2022). "Urvashi Vaid, Legendary Activist for LGBTQ+ Civil Rights, Dies at 63". The Advocate. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Team". The Vaid Group LLC. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  10. ^ "About The Vaid Group". The Vaid Group LLC. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  11. ^ "The Politics of Intersection". Retrieved 18 October 2007. [dead link]
  12. ^ a b "Stonewall Book Awards". American Library Association. Archived from the original on 7 April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.
  13. ^ "Urvashi Vaid to Join Arcus". Arcus Foundation. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  14. ^ "Board and Staff". ArcusFoundation.org. Archived from the original on 3 October 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009.
  15. ^ "Urvashi Vaid". GillFoundation.org. Archived from the original on 8 April 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  16. ^ "Power 50: Urvashi Vaid". Archived from the original on 29 September 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  17. ^ Earle, Talia (13 March 2014). "Book review: Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics, by Urvashi Vaid". Rainbow Round Table Book and Media Reviews. Archived from the original on 2 June 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  18. ^ Kerr, Theodore (4 November 2012). "'Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics' by Urvashi Vaid". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  19. ^ "Urvashi Vaid's Irresistible Revolution". Curve Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013.
  20. ^ "Urvashi Vaid Talks Future of LGBT Equality and Being Honored by GLAD (AUDIO)". Huffington Post. 17 October 2014.
  21. ^ a b Vaid, Urvashi (January 2014). "Chemo Killed the Small-Talk Gene". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 18 (1): 31–42. doi:10.1080/10894160.2013.836433. ISSN 1089-4160. PMID 24400627. S2CID 32716466.
  22. ^ "Urvashi Vaid". glbtq.com. 21 December 2005. Archived from the original on 19 April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.
  23. ^ "Legendary attorney, LGBTQ+ activist, & author Urvashi Vaid has died". Los Angeles Blade. 14 May 2022. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  24. ^ Vaid-Menon, Alok (4 June 2014). "When Representation Isn't Enough: Why All of Us Aren't Proud". Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  25. ^ Simons, Brian; Hanssens, Margie (24 April 1996). "Lambda Legal Defense to Honor Outstanding Efforts to Promote Civil Rights of Lesbians, Gay Men, And People with HIV" (Press release). Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  26. ^ "Benefits". The New York Times. 9 February 1997.
  27. ^ "The City University of New York 1999 Commencement Schedule".
  28. ^ "AmfAR :: 2002 Honoring with Pride Urvashi Vaid". The Foundation for AIDS Research :: HIV / AIDS Research. Archived from the original on 22 June 2020. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  29. ^ Vaid, Urvashi (2007). "2006 Dan Bradley Award Acceptance Speech". Tulane Journal of Law and Sexuality. 16: 115–122. ISSN 2688-5786. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  30. ^ "GMHC 2008 Savor". YouTube.
  31. ^ "Urvashi Vaid, Recipient of the SAGE Ken Dawson Advocacy Award".
  32. ^ "Excerpt from Urvashi Vaid's Kessler Lecture: 'What Can Brown Do For You? Race, Sexuality and the Future of LGBT Politics'". CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  33. ^ "Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics | Awards & Grants". www.ala.org. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  34. ^ "Social Justice Action Award". 33rd Annual Winter Roundtable. Teachers College, Columbia University. Archived from the original on 20 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  35. ^ "GLAD / Events". Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Archived from the original on 9 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  36. ^ "GLAD Mourns the Loss of Friend and Visionary Urvashi Vaid". Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. 14 May 2022. Retrieved 15 May 2022.
  37. ^ "Kalamazoo College Commencement 2015 Will be Held June 14 at 2:15 on the Quad". 10 June 2015.
  38. ^ Oler, Tammy (31 October 2019). "57 Champions of Queer Feminism, All Name-Dropped in One Impossibly Catchy Song". Slate Magazine.

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