Urvashi Vaid was born in India in 1958 and moved to the United States with her family when she was eight. She told Vanity Fair, "I was a very awkward young girl. I spoke with an Indian accent. I had these very thick glasses. I had long hair, very thick, straight hair, Indian hair, down to my waist. I was such an intellectual. I read voraciously, and by the time I was 12, I was going through my parents' library.... I lived a lot in my head."
Vaid describes herself as an outsider as a child, because of her ethnicity, accent, and intellectual interests. At an early age, she became politically active participating in anti-war marches at 11 and giving pro-McGovern speeches at 12. Vaid graduated from high school in only three years and attended upstate New York's Vassar College on an academic scholarship.
The climate at Vassar at this time was politically charged, as was Vaid herself, and she was heavily influenced by it. She was especially attracted to the feminist movement, though she was concerned about oppression in all its forms.
Vaid began political organizing in college, working to form a variety of groups to address the discrimination she felt. In 1979 she graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and political science, then spent three months as a volunteer intern with the Women's Prison Project. After graduation, she worked as a legal secretary and administrative assistant for a small criminal and business law firm in Boston while also serving on the steering committee of the Allston-Brighton Greenlight Safehouse Network, an anti-violence neighborhood project that she had co-founded.
In 1980 she enrolled in law school at Northeastern University in Boston. Two years later, she cofounded the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, a non-partisan political organization that interviews and endorses candidates for political office and advocates for Boston's gay community.
She graduated from law school in 1983 and went to work as a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prisons Project in Washington, D.C. In this position Vaid conducted class action civil rights lawsuits to improve conditions in the nation's prison system. In 1984 she initiated the National Prisons Project's work with prisoners who had contracted the HIV virus.
Vaid became involved with the NGLTF in 1985 when she served on its board of directors. In 1986 she became the group's director of public information and brought with her a degree of professionalism and media savvy it had not known before. In doing so, she increased coverage of NGLTF's activities and agenda and established the organization as a principal source of information on issues concerning gay and lesbian rights.
In 1989 Vaid became executive director of NGLTF's Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. There, she tripled the group's operating budget and increased staff while beginning major fund-raising and public outreach programs. As always, Vaid was working to increase visibility, believing that the more gays and lesbians are seen by the media as ordinary citizens participating in society just like anyone else, the fewer barriers there will be to acceptance. She also co-founded the NGLTF's Creating Change conference, which remains the only national gay and lesbian political conference, making news during the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns.
In 1992 she resigned her position to work on a book, 'Virtual Equality', which was published in 1995. She returned to the Policy Institute in in 1997.
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