Urvashi Vaid, Reconsidered

The WaPo’s obit for former (then) NGLTF leader Urvashi Vaid. The paper’s obits for conservatives tend to include critical points, but none in this hagiography. Vaid, however, was pretty vicious toward gay conservatives, moderates, libertarians or anyone who disagreed with her.

In her book Virtual Equality, she complained, “Since I left [NGLTF], conservative columnists like Paul Varnell, Bruce Bawer, and Stephen Miller have continued to attack me personally, even though they have never spoken with me, worked with me, or talked to many of the people I have worked with.”

I had, in fact, spoken to her—we had been on a panel together at an AIDS-era conference. But really, who thinks you have to speak to a public figure before criticizing them based on their public acts and writings? Certainly not Vaid when she lashed out at others.

In an article titled “The Status Quo of the Status Queer” in Gay Community News, Vaid called for “a full-scale frontal assault” against “the coming of a racist, sexist gay and lesbian Right.” I criticized her for that in Christopher Street, which may be what got me into her book.

Vaid was at best a lukewarm and late-to-the-game supporter of same-sex marriage and (especially) gays in the military, getting onboard when it became untenable not to do so. These were, after all, initially seen as assimilationist goals, championed by gay and lesbian conservatives and moderates and dismissed by radicals.

To her credit, she was involved in AIDS activism and lobbying for increased AIDS funding, as the obit highlights, but NGLTF was a secondary player while ACT-UP and its offshoots were the power drivers.

Vaid’s focus was on what we now call intersectional activism, and forming a broad coalition of leftwing progressives for economic and societal transformation. She once described her politics as “anarcho-syndicalist,” a strand of utopian Marxism.

As for gay and lesbian legal equality, credit groups like the early HRC (before it became a Democratic front group), Freedom to Marry and Lambda Legal, along with Log Cabin Republicans and others, for moving the needle forward, not Vaid.

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