Community celebrates the life and legacy of Urvashi Vaid

Urvashi Vaid's partner, Kate Clinton, speaks at Vaid's memorial service on November 3.
Urvashi Vaid’s partner, Kate Clinton, speaks at Vaid’s memorial service on November 3.
Donna Aceto

Hundreds of people — including advocates, friends, and loved ones — joined together on November 3 to remember the life of renowned LGBTQ Indian-American activist, attorney, leader, and author Urvashi Vaid, who died earlier this year at age 63.The community met at B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side for a special memorial ceremony dedicated to Vaid, who passed away on May 14. The event featured live performances, a video presentation with photographs and videos from throughout Vaid’s life, and a slate of speakers.

Among numerous leadership roles, Vaid was the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force and served on the boards of several organizations. Vaid’s death prompted an outpouring of support from those who knew her as well as those who emphasized the trailblazing work she carried out during her life.

“Today, we mark the loss and we celebrate Urvashi — the charismatic, inspiring movement leader,” said Richard Burns, who served alongside Vaid on the board of the forthcoming American LGBTQ+ Museum and helped to organize the memorial with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. “It’s a movement-shaking loss, but its also profoundly personal for so many people in this room. Urv was generous, she was tough, and she was kind; she was bossy and really hated it when people tried to boss her — as some of you know.”

He added, “She could be quick to anger and quick to forgive. Her ability to challenge us all was so imbued with compassion and love and charm that we could take it.”

Clinton listed several of Vaid’s positions and accomplishments over the years before sharing stories of the life the pair enjoyed together. Through those stories, attendees heard even more about how Vaid cared for others.

“Over her career, Urvashi had many, many offices, and in almost every office that she had, she had a bookshelf, of course, and on the bookshelf somewhere, conspicuously displayed and placed, was a book called ‘Freedom is an Endless Meeting.’ She was in hours of meetings. She ran hours of meetings. She racked up thousands of Zoom hours. She was in decades of meetings if you put them all together. During COVID, when she was working from home and I was eavesdropping, there always seemed to be a moment when I would hear her say, ‘Let’s take am moment and check in with each other on how you’re doing and how you’re feeling.'”

Below, view pictures from the event and watch the American LGBTQ+ Museum’s video of the ceremony.

Eliza Byard, Rea Carey, and Mandy Carter huddle for a picture.Donna Aceto


Tony Kushner 

Author, playwright, and screenwriter Tony Kushner speaks about Urvashi Vaid’s legacy.Donna Aceto

Longtime feminist leader Gloria Steinem speaks from the heart.Donna Aceto
Kushner stands with activist Peter Staley.Donna Aceto
Clinton embraces former Congressmember Barney Frank.Donna Aceto
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen joins others in paying their respects to Urvashi Vaid.Donna Aceto
Kleinbaum (left), Burns (center), and Clinton share a moment together.Donna Aceto
Urvashi Vaid program
The program for the event.