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Longtime LGBTQ activist Carmen Vazquez dies at 72

The Puerto Rican social justice pioneer died from complications due to Covid-19, the National LGBTQ Task Force announced.
Creating Change 2020, Dallas -
Carmen Vázquez was presented the SAGE Advocacy Award for Excellence on Aging Issues at the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change Conference in 2019.Devon Rowland / via National LGBTQ Task Force

Carmen Vázquez, a longtime LGBTQ and social justice activist, died Wednesday due to Covid-19-related complications, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force.

She was 72.

"The loss of Carmen tears open a hole in the heart of the LGBTQ+, social justice, immigration, reproductive justice, and sexual freedom movements,” Rea Carey, the task force’s executive director, said in a statement. “I’m deeply sad that one of our movement’s most brilliant activists is no longer with us. Rest in power, Carmen. We will continue your work for liberation.”

Born in Puerto Rico in 1949 to a World War II veteran and a seamstress, Vázquez migrated to New York City in the early 1950s. After graduating from the City University of New York in the early ‘70s with a master’s degree in education, she moved to San Francisco, where she became a leading Bay Area activist.

Vázquez was the founding director of The Women's Building, a women-led community space that opened in San Francisco in 1971 with the goal of advocating for gender equality and social justice. She then became the director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the coordinator of LGBTQ services for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

When Vázquez moved back to New York in the '90s, she continued her activism by serving as director of policy for the city’s LGBT Community Center and helped found the New York State LGBT Health & Human Services Network, a coalition that now consists of more than 70 nonprofit organizations that advocate for queer New Yorkers.

Her accomplishments were recognized last year by SAGE, a national advocacy group for LGBTQ elders, when it presented her with the SAGE Advocacy Award for Excellence on Aging Issues. Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, reminisced about the moment in a statement this week.

"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,” he said. “It’s unimaginable that Carmen has passed, but the spirit of someone as fierce as Carmen lives forever and continues to inspire us.”

SAGE plans to rename the award after Vázquez in honor of her decades of work for the LGBTQ community.

In her acceptance speech for the award, Vázquez had shared her hopes for future activists.

"While today or this moment is about me, change is never about one person alone,” she said. “There were countless others who paved the way for my activism and countless others who will follow me and build the bridge to the future. Equality is not enough, justice and liberation are where our hearts and minds should lead us.”

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