Queerversaries: today’s birthday: October 8, Urvashi Vaid

Urvashi Vaid october 8
Image: The Laura Flanders Show

Urvashi Vaid, born October 8, 1958, fought for decades for social justice for all. Born in India, she lived in the US from the age of eight. Her lifetime of activism began at age eleven when she joined anti-Vietnam war protests.

Urvashi Vaid went on to become a prominent and highly effective advocate for the LGBTIQA+ communities. She held roles in various organisations including a decade at the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Unlike many lawyers, Urvashi Vaid never hesitated to get down in the trenches. Her participation in an abortion protest outside the Supreme Court saw her arrested. On another occasion, police removed her from President Bush’s 1990 speech on AIDS. The president belatedly addressed the health crisis more than a year after taking office. Police objected to the sign Urvashi Vaid held up: ‘Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not’.

Urvashi Vaid’s activism was informed by being a lesbian immigrant from India. She spoke of often being the only woman of colour in the room — sometimes, the only woman.

Urvashi argued all her life for inclusion. She wanted to see LGBTIQA+ organisations encompass everyone regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, or ability.

March on Washington

At the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Equal Rights and Liberation, she called for freedom for all.

“Perhaps the right is right about something. We call for the end of the world as we know it. We call for the end of racism and sexism and bigotry as we know it. For the end of violence and discrimination and homophobia as we know it. For the end of sexism as we know it. We stand for freedom as we have yet to know it, and we will not be denied.”

By 2014, LGBTIQA+ organisations had won many battles. But Urvashi Vaid noted the changes wrought on those organisations by success.

Stigmatised as sinful and immoral

“Working for gay and lesbian liberation requires that leaders and organizations be brave, always critical and forward-thinking, committed to the fullness of our communities, not the narrowness of our own self-interest, mindful of co-optation.

“In the early years of our modern movement, we were all these things and more—there seemed nothing to lose and a world to gain. But as we institutionalized, as we came under attack from the right wing, as we suffered immeasurable losses due to AIDS and the violent impact of homophobia, the imperative to moderate increased.

“A more conservative political landscape pressured a once radical movement to itself tilt right. And underlying it all a clear paradox has emerged: the need for institutionalization, the creation of the very institutions that I believe are essential to save our lives, has co-opted and limited our vision and dreams.

“It has presented a respectable sexuality that may be more acceptable to straight folks (the consumerism of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the titillation of The L Word), but it has not yet
created a world that embraces, respects and celebrates queer sexual orientation or gender variance. We are still stigmatised as sinful and immoral.”

She argued for LGBTIQA+ organisations to do more for the disadvantaged in our communities.

A more just society for all

“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 — parts of our community who are less powerful than middle- or upper-class professionals like me…

“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.”

Urvashi Vaid lived for 27 years with lesbian comedian and social satirist Kate Clinton.

“I’m still crazy about her. She’s really wonderful. She’s really different from me. She can’t stand process. She’s such a smart observer of manners and trends and politics.

“I actually enjoy how she sees the world. I’m quite literal and lawyerly about how I see the world. That kind of engagement keeps us happy. I’m happy.”

Urvashi Vaid died from cancer in May 2022.

Read also: Bisexual activist Lani Kaʻahumanu’s speech to the 1993 March on Washington.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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