Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Urvashi Vaid became the first person of color to run a mainstream national civil rights organization for the GLBT community when she assumed leadership of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She took part in direct political action and advocated for a multiracial and cogender movement.

Summary of Event

Born in India in 1958, Urvashi Vaid moved to the United States when she was eight years old. At an early age, she was reading voraciously and became politically active, participating in antiwar marches and giving speeches at age twelve. Vaid began political organizing in college, addressing the discrimination she felt as a woman and a person of color. In 1983, she graduated from law school at Northeastern University in Boston. Hired by the American Civil Liberties Union, she initiated the National Prisons Project, which worked with prisoners who were HIV-positive. [kw]Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (1989) [kw]Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Vaid Becomes (1989) [kw]Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Vaid Becomes Executive (1989) [kw]National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the (1989) [kw]Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National (1989) [kw]Lesbian Task Force, Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and (1989) [kw]Task Force, Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian (1989) National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National [c]Organizations and institutions;1989: Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force[1900] [c]Government and politics;1989: Vaid Becomes Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force[1900] Vaid, Urvashi

In 1985, Vaid began her involvement with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), one of the most influential GLBT rights organizations in the United States, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, she became NGLTF’s director of public information and brought to the position a new degree of professionalism and media savvy.

In 1989, she was appointed executive director, becoming the first person of color to run a mainstream national civil rights organization for the GLBT community. Vaid tripled the NGLTF’s operating budget while beginning major public outreach programs, and she cofounded NGLTF’s Creating Change conference, Creating Change Conferences the only national gay and lesbian political conference. Vaid resigned from her position in 1992 to work on her book, Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation Virtual Equality (Vaid) (1995), but would return to NGLTF in 1997 as the director of public information for an additional three years.

Significance

The choice of Urvashi Vaid to lead NGLTF was an endorsement of her political agenda, which would help shape the GLBT movement in the following decade. Her multifaceted agenda consisted of four key points: direct political action, multiracial and cogender politics, building coalitions, and fighting the right wing.

Alongside Queer Nation and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), NGLTF under Vaid used direct-action strategy to end homophobia and heterosexism and to break the silence concerning the AIDS epidemic’s effect on the GLBT community. Vaid wrote in Virtual Equality of “the shock of ACT UP’s 1989 Stop the Church demonstration against the [Roman] Catholic Church” and “the red-and-black posters citing the AIDS death toll so far and asking ’Where Was George [H. W. Bush]?’” In 1990, Vaid interrupted President Bush’s first and only AIDS policy speech at the National Community AIDS Partnership meeting, protesting his inactivity as she held up a sign reading “Remember Gay People with AIDS.” Vaid was escorted outside. Because of her action, she “incurred the wrath of conservatives” in the GLBT movement.

Vaid’s work focuses on multiracial and “multigendered” politics that challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, and other kinds of social and cultural biases in the mainstream society in general and the GLBT movement in particular. In an interview for Vanity Fair, she described the nature of her work: “The movement I work in might be called a gay and lesbian movement, but its mission is the liberation of all people.” Vaid realized that most gay and lesbian people neither understand nor value the importance of multiracial and multi-issue politics. In Virtual Equality, she asks, rhetorically,

If we are…a diverse, multicolored, many-gendered, multisexual rainbow of a people, then why should an attempt to bring up racism and sexism in our movement become a matter of dispute?…Why do we still try to find ’one of each’ for our conference, meeting, board,…?

During her tenure at NGLTF, there were incidents of racial and gender intolerance, but Vaid refused to “neuter and derace (erase)” herself in order to be heard: “I am, after all, who I am: the first Indian and person of color to run a mainstream gay and lesbian group.”

Multiculturalism and building coalitions were Vaid’s strategies for the movement’s success and for fostering understanding about race and gender. Gay and lesbian organizations worked on racism and sexism “because it was the right thing to do, because gay people of color and lesbians were directly affected, and because to do otherwise would be hypocritical, since we so often asked nongay organizations to support gay rights.” Thanks to Vaid’s strategies, a prestigious national civil rights lobby, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, in 1992 endorsed the idea of federal nondiscrimination legislation for gays and lesbians.

Vaid had two strategies to fight the right wing. First, she advocated the public debate on sexuality.

Gay and lesbian sexuality remains the biggest obstacle to our full acceptance as human beings by the dominant heterosexual culture. We are hated because of how, with whom, and how much (mythic or real) we do it. To win against the right wing, we have to fight back on the sexual battleground, not run away from it.…[W]e threaten the myth of universal heterosexuality simply by our existence in every culture, color, and time.…[W]e disrupt the sexist order that decrees women exist for the pleasure and service of men.…[O]ur movement represents the liberation of the most powerful and untamed motivating force in human life: desire.

Second, as she stated in her speech at the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, the movement must address Christian bigotry against LGBT persons. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">D’Emilio, John. Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University. New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">D’Emilio, John, William Turner, and Urvashi Vaid. Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vaid, Urvashi. Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

February 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes

April 19, 1967: First Student Homophile League Is Formed

August 11-18, 1968: NACHO Formally Becomes the First Gay Political Coalition

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

November 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement

1973: National Gay Task Force Is Formed

October 18, 1973: Lambda Legal Authorized to Practice Law

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

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