By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
KALAMAZOO – On May 25, the Arcus Foundation, which provides grants to organizations that promote tolerance and compassion, announced the appointment of Urvashi Vaid as the organization’s new executive director.
“With this strategic appointment, our fellow Michigander, [Arcus Foundation founder] Jon Stryker has made equality based on orientation and gender possible within my lifetime,” said Michigan activist and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Board Member Kathleen Russell.
That claim may seem overstated. But looking at Vaid’s accomplishments, it may turn out to be conservative.
Vaid’s work in social justice organizations spans more than twenty-five years. Vaid is a former staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, where she initiated the organization’s work on HIV/AIDS policies in prisons. She has served NGLTF as media director, executive director, and Policy Institute think-tank director. Since January 2001, Vaid has worked at the Ford Foundation, where she is the Deputy Director of the Governance and Civil Society Unit, managing a grant-making portfolio on US civil society.
When Vaid has not been on the ground as an activist, she has been at her desk as a thinker and writer. Vaid is author of “Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay & Lesbian Liberation,” a political analysis of the LGBT movement. She is co-editor of an anthology on public policy history titled “Creating Change: Public Policy, Sexuality and Civil Rights.” In addition, she has written extensively in the gay and mainstream press and has been published in magazines such as the Nation, the New Republic, and the Advocate.
Asked about her decision to change career paths from direct activism to philanthropy, Vaid explained that it was, “a chance to grow and learn.”
“I was happily working at NGLTF in 2000 when a search firm called and urged me to work with the Ford Foundation,” she said. “It’s just been a tremendous learning experience, and it’s given me a lot of insight into the needs of social change organizations and how philanthropy can help.”
Vaid is very familiar with the LGBT activist community in Michigan. “Over the years I’ve worked with Triangle and Affirmations and different activists in Michigan,” she said. “I think I’ve been connected to gay and lesbian activists in Michigan for over a decade.”
Vaid’s appointment is part of the Arcus Foundation’s overall growth plan, which includes establishing a national and international office in New York.
Speaking of her new job, which she will begin in mid-September, Vaid said, “I am so excited and very honored that John [Stryker] and Arcus has selected me. It will be great to work in Michigan, and to work at the national level with Arcus.”
Added Russell, “What a time to be alive – with Urvashi’s appointment as executive director of theÊArcus Foundation,Êthe power of transformative/strategic politics has met the power of transformative economic resources.”
To learn more about the Arcus Foundation’s work promoting LGBT equality, visit http://www.arcusfoundation.org.