Carmen Vázquez, a long time LGBTQ+ activist who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Harlem, has passed away at the age of 72 from complications due to coronavirus.
Vázquez also spent years in San Francisco, where she was the founding director of the Women’s Building and helped establish the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center.
After moving back to New York in the 1990s, she became the director of public policy at the LGBT Community Center from 1994 to 2003 and helped form the New York State LGBT Health and Health Services Network. From 2003 to 2007, Vázquez served as deputy executive director for the now-defunct Empire State Pride Agenda.
More recently in her lifetime of work for the LGBTQ+ community, Vázquez co-chaired the board of directors of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting sexual freedom, and was the coordinator of the New York State Dept. of Health LGBT Health and Human Services Unit.
In 2020, she was honored by The Task Force at the annual Creating Change conference for her work on behalf of LGBTQ+ elders. “One of my proudest moments as an activist was presenting Carmen with the annual SAGE Award at Creating Change 2020, in recognition of her lifetime of courage, fierceness and struggle,” Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE said in a press release.
The National LGBTQ Task Force also released a statement, saying “It’s unimaginable that Carmen has passed, but the spirit of someone as fierce as Carmen lives forever and continues to inspire us.” Task Force executive director Rea Carey added that Vázquez’s death “tears open a hole in the heart of the LGBTQ+, social justice, immigration, reproductive justice and sexual freedom movements. And in mine.” Carey continued, saying, “I’m deeply sad that one of our movement’s most brilliant activists is no longer with us. I’ve never known this movement without Carmen in it. A fierce, Puerto Rican butch, who spoke, wrote, organized, mobilized and willed with her small but powerful body justice and liberation into this world.”
Praise for Vázquez poured in from LGBTQ+ organizations across the country. “The advancement of LGBTQ liberation was made faster because of her efforts and countless lives are fuller and more protected because of her,” said Alan van Capelle, former executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda. The Human Rights Campaign tweeted that “Carmen was a true trailblazer for LGBTQ equality and was a hero to so many, particularly Latinx LGBTQ folks.” PFLAG national director of advocacy, policy and partnerships Diego M. Sánchez added that “her legacy will live for generations because she coached as well as coaxed, taught and persuaded.”