Rest in Power: Urvashi Vaid, the Queer Movement’s Legendary Firebrand

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Urvashi Vaid—on the time, the manager director of the Nationwide Homosexual and Lesbian Process Pressure—interrupts a speech by then-President George H.W. Bush in 1990. (AP Picture / Dennis Prepare dinner)

There has by no means been a queer chief like Urvashi Vaid. Till her demise of metastatic breast most cancers on Might 14 at age 63, she spent the higher a part of 5 many years preventing injustice.

At her passing, the LGBTQ neighborhood mourned—as did numerous others devoted to necessary fights for girls’s and civil rights. We mourned not simply because somebody we revered or admired and even liked was gone. We additionally mourned as a result of we knew that the causes we care so deeply about would undergo with out her sensible perception.

Urvashi and I first met within the early Eighties as activists and newly minted attorneys in Washington, D.C. Younger and earnest in our lesbian feminism, we bonded round the truth that every of us, as a matter of precept, practiced non-monogamy. (This was a precept we every later deserted after falling in love with the ladies who would grow to be our life-long companions and, ultimately, lawfully wedded wives—in Urvashi’s case, that was the exceptional political humorist Kate Clinton, with whom she spent 34 years.) Our assembly was the start of a 40-year friendship that spanned a number of cities, organizations {and professional} relationships, all in service of constructing the world a greater place, not only for LGBTQ individuals, however for everybody.

Urvashi developed her political instincts early. Born in New Delhi on Oct. 8, 1958, she was the youngest of three sisters. When she was 8, her household immigrated to the U.S.

A self-described nerd as a teenager, Urvashi avidly adopted politics within the newspaper, demonstrating in opposition to the Vietnam Battle at age 11. By the point she entered Vassar School in 1975, she was growing her organizing abilities. She cofounded the campus Feminist Union and have become concerned in anti-apartheid rallies and efforts pushing for divestment from South Africa.

Urvashi went on to obtain her legislation diploma from Northeastern College College of Regulation. She then moved to Washington, D.C., and was a workers lawyer for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. Her skilled trajectory was endlessly modified in 1989 when she grew to become the manager director of the pioneering National Gay and Lesbian Task Force—the primary lady of colour to steer a nationwide LGBTQ group. Precept drove Urvashi in nearly every part she did. She exploded onto the scene with a dynamism that has by no means been equaled since.

After stepping down from the duty drive in 1992, Urvashi went on to do many issues. She wrote books. She labored in philanthropy. She appeared in a documentary with icons like Gloria Steinem and bell hooks. She mentored numerous different leaders. She based her personal consulting group. And unceasingly she organized for change.

What I’ll all the time admire is each her substance and her fashion. Urvashi was a pint-size powerhouse, a firebrand and a truth-teller. She was dwelling and proselytizing about intersectionality earlier than it had a reputation. One among my favourite Urvashi quotes was from a speech she gave on the Nationwide Lesbian Convention in Atlanta in 1991:

“The lesbian agenda is the reconstruction of households … the reimagining of energy … the reorganization of the financial system … the reinforcement of civil rights and dignity for all individuals … the tip of the oppression of ladies, the tip of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia … the reestablishment of a correct relationship to the environment. … Once I record this laundry record of oppression, it doesn’t overwhelm me; it tells me how far I’ve to go in my wrestle; it tells me who my allies are.”

Marching in New York Metropolis in 2011 after New York state legalized same-sex marriage, Vaid lists what’s subsequent on the intersectional “dyke agenda.” (Donna Aceto)

She took this breadth of perspective in every single place she went. When the New York Metropolis Dyke March in 2011 was celebrating marriage victories, she carried an indication reminding everybody of all that remained on the agenda: ending violence in opposition to girls and trans individuals, racial justice, immigrant rights, reproductive justice, ending company welfare. She concluded with the exhortation: “Let’s maintain going!”

After which there was Urvashi’s pleasure, usually expressed with reckless abandon. Her fully infectious giggle. Her ardour. Her urgency. Her insistence that no trigger ought to demand the denial of pleasure nor, as Emma Goldman mentioned, the precise to “freedom … to self-expression … to lovely, radiant issues.”

Urvashi Vaid wished lovely, radiant issues for everybody. Certainly, she was one herself.


This article originally appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Ms. Become a member today to read more reporting like this in print and through our app.



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