Women’s History Month: Activist Urvashi Vaid

Urvashi Vaid

Urvashi Vaid (Photo: Vassar College/John Abbott)


Is the success of the LGBTQ movement about winning rights? Is the right to marry or the right to be out in the military enough to call the movement a success? On a day-to-day basis, I expect many of us see these accomplishments as signs of progress, as proof of the success of the queer movement  —  and of course they are.

But Urvashi Vaid, long-time LGBTQ activist, will open your eyes to much larger issues. Her intellect and her passion will lead you to see and think globally about societal norms and the underlying structures of our world that keep so many down. She is concerned for all of us in every walk of life in this country and around the world.

Vaid, who moved to the United States as a child from her native New Delhi, India, has been one of the most articulate and effective leaders of the queer community and the larger community of women and people of color for decades. Her most recent book, “Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics,” was released in 2012.
In the book’s introduction, Vaid writes,

“For me, an irresistible revolution is one in which the LGBT movement deploys the power it has gained to challenge and change traditions of ignorance, violence, poverty and authoritarian control that continue to dominate the world.”

She is currently Director of the Engaging Tradition Project at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. The Projects explores how tradition is manipulated both by those for and against movements for gender and sexual justice.

Among her numerous achievements as a writer, speaker, activist and researcher, Vaid is founder of LPAC, the first lesbian political action committee. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Gill Foundation, dedicated to achieving equal opportunity for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. She is founder of The Vaid Group, a consulting practice that advises individuals and organizations working to achieve social justice in a wide range of fields.

Recently Vaid had this to say about the work yet to be done:

“The work ahead over the next ten years for LGBTQ people is as important as the work we have done already.  We cannot let up in our intensity or our mobilization in order to secure full human rights for all parts of our communities. But rights alone will not end our struggle — we need to change norms and traditions as well. Lesbians and women know this truth.

“Changing norms requires engagement with all the structures (internal and external) that teach that women’s sexual, reproductive and gender freedom is immoral or sinful or otherwise bad. Changing norms also requires us to change the ways that white-supremacy is structured into law, economic policies, government programs, and even in the institutions we have created.

“So I’m excited about how much good stuff is happening in the queer movement, but I am also clear that huge work must be done by all of us to change and improve the lived experience of LGBTQ people.”

An activist for four decades, Urvashi Vaid never rests. Thank goodness for that.

For information on Urvashi Vaid and her impressive body of work, see www.urvashivaid.net.

Cindy Zelman is a writer based in Boston, whose blog, “The Early Draft,” explores a variety of topics, including lesbianism, writing, agoraphobia and humor.

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