2010 Kessler Lecture – “What Can Brown Do For You? Race, Sexuality and the Future of LGBT Politics”

The mainstream LGBT politics has at best a transactional relationship to race and at worst an opportunistic one. To most LGBT people, race is invisible because the default is whiteness. Is this postcivil rights era “color-blindness” a good development over the more polarizing politics of identity? What does raceblindness mean for what constitutes victory? Is it possible to transform the LGBT movement’s work on racial justice into something beyond a quid pro quo? What will it take for the position of LGBT people of color in the mainstream queer movement to move beyond tokenism? Informed by 30 years of work at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality and progressive politics, the Kessler lecture by Urvashi Vaid will tackle the interconnection of race and racial justice to the future of the LGBT movement.

Urvashi Vaid is a community organizer and attorney who has been a leader in the LGBT movement since 1980 and has worked in philanthropy for ten years. During the 2010-2011 academic year, Vaid will be a Visiting Scholar with the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center’s Department of Sociology, working with the Social Justice Sexuality Project. From 2005- 2010, Vaid was Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, a private grant making foundation that supports social justice and conservation organizations worldwide, and the Arcus Operating Foundation. Within these two broad fields, Arcus focuses its support on groups working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights and groups working for the conservation of the world’s great apes. The Arcus Foundation and the Arcus Operating Foundation maintain offices in Kalamazoo, Mich., New York City and Cambridge, UK and had a combined budget of more than $40 million in 2010.

Before joining Arcus, Vaid was deputy director of the Governance and Civil Society Unit of the Ford Foundation, managing a national grant making program on U.S. civil society, from January 2001-August 2005. For more than 10 years prior to that, she worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the oldest national LGBT civil rights organization, first as its media director (7/86-7/89), then as executive director (8/89-12/92), and finally as Policy Institute Think-tank director (1/97-1/01). From 1983-1986, Vaid was staff attorney at the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she initiated the organization’s work on HIV/ AIDS in prisons.

Vaid is author of Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay & Lesbian Liberation (Anchor, 1996), a political analysis of the U.S. LGBT movement. She is co-editor, with Dr. John D’Emilio and Dr. William Turner, of an anthology on public policy history titled Creating Change: Public Policy, Sexuality and Civil Rights (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). She is a former columnist for The Advocate, the U.S. national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, and has contributed chapters to a number of books. She has lectured extensively on the issues of social justice, civil and human rights and LGBT equality. Vaid is the recipient of an Honorary Degree from City University of New York, Queens College of Law, as well as awards from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, American Foundation for AIDS Research, American Immigration Law Foundation, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Asian American Legal Defense Fund, the Paul Anderson Prize Foundation, and Lambda Legal.

She serves on the board of the Gill Foundation, which focus on achieving LGBT equality. Vaid is a graduate of Vassar College, where she received a BA in English and Political Science and of Northeastern University School of Law, from which she received a JD. She lives in New York City with her partner of 22 years, Kate Clinton.