In Memoriam: Urvashi Vaid

amfAR mourns the passing of attorney and civil rights activist Urvashi Vaid, who died on May 14 at the age of 63 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Vaid’s advocacy for LGBTQ, women’s, and immigration rights, and her anti-war efforts, among other causes, often intersected with AIDS activism. As a staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project (1983–1986), she launched the organization’s advocacy on HIV/AIDS in prison. Under her leadership at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), as executive director and later as director of the organization’s Policy Institute from 1997 to 2001, the organization strengthened its progressive stances on health justice, including gender and racial equity in medical research and increased funding for AIDS.

In 2002, amfAR honored Urvashi Vaid with its Award of Courage. In an interview to mark the occasion, Vaid shared her insights about what was needed to address AIDS: “I fear that the obstacles to a full response to AIDS continue to be prejudice, racism, poverty, and the lack of a healthcare system that can adequately deal with poor people. AIDS should not be seen in isolation. It’s part of a healthcare crisis. It’s part of a racial crisis. It’s part of a third world debt crisis. It’s part of a corporate greed crisis. If we look at it that way, whether you are gay or lesbian or straight, you realize it is not just a problem that existed in the 1980s.”

A vocal critic of the lagging and inadequate federal response to HIV/AIDS, she drew attention to the failures of President George H.W. Bush’s administration when she famously held up a sign that read “Talk Is Cheap, AIDS Funding Is Not,” during his 1990 press conference on AIDS.

Vaid is survived by her nibling, gender non-conforming performance artist and author Alok Vaid-Menon, as well as her longtime partner, political humorist Kate Clinton. 

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