In Remembrance: Urvashi Vaid

In honor of Pride Month, we’re remembering attorney, author and champion of LGBTQ+ rights Urvashi Vaid, who died last month following a career dedicated to fighting for equality.

The impact of Vaid’s pioneering work extends from the AIDS era to gay rights and the civil rights movement. As The New York Times explained: “Long before the word ‘intersectionality’ entered common parlance, she was practicing it, insisting that freedom for gay men and lesbians required fighting for gender, racial and economic equality as well.”

Vaid became politically active as an undergraduate at Vassar College and continued her activism as a law student at Northeastern University School of Law. She helped establish the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance and wrote for the Gay Community News — one of the first news outlets to highlight the prevalence of HIV in the gay community.

After law school, Vaid worked as a staff lawyer for the National Prison Project, an American Civil Liberties Union initiative. She helped expand it to include advocacy for incarcerated people with HIV and AIDS.

During the height of the AIDS crisis, Vaid became the spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, now the National LGBTQ Task Force. She became its director in 1989 and was a fierce advocate for AIDS funding. When the task force issued a statement announcing Vaid’s death, current executive director Kierra Johnson described Vaid as “one of the most influential progressive activists of our time.”

One of Vaid’s notable moments came in 1990 during President George H.W. Bush’s speech on gay rights. She was removed from the event by police for holding a sign that said: “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not.” (Listen to Vaid’s 2018 interview on NPR about the AIDS crisis.)

In 1992, she left the task force to write “Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation.” It won the Stonewall Book Award for nonfiction in 1996.

Vaid later held positions in advocacy groups, academic institutions and philanthropic foundations.

She established the Vaid Group, a consulting group that works to reduce structural inequalities and advance social, racial, gender and economic justice. She also founded LPAC, a political action committee that “builds political strength and increases representation for and with LGBTQ women.”

The Washington Post noted: “Friends and colleagues described Ms. Vaid as a masterful coalition builder, capable of enlisting support for LGBTQ rights and other causes through speeches as well as by working behind the scenes.”

Pride is a time of celebration and remembrance. Vaid’s passion for and contributions to the fight for equality are an important part of that story.