Longtime LGBT Activist Paula Ettelbrick Passes Away at 56

Paula Ettelbrick, a lawyer and long-time LGBT rights advocate who worked tirelessly for numerous high-profile LGBT organizations, died Friday morning after an ongoing battle with cancer. She was 56.

Ettelbrick was a tenacious fighter for the rights of LGBT people. In 1986 she became Lambda Legal’s first staff attorney where she worked on a number of cases, particularly those related to legal issues surrounding the heightening AIDS crisis. Two years later, from 1988 to 1993, she served as Lambda Legal’s legal director. Ettelbrick went on to work as the policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Legislative Counsel at Empire State Pride Agenda, where she negotiated New York City’s landmark 1997 domestic partnership law, which extended domestic partners the same rights and benefits as spouses under City law.

In recent years Ettelbrick served as the family policy director of the policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and as the executive director of the nonprofit organization International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), which focuses on issues involving the discrimination and persecution of people based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. All this while teaching at New York University Law School and Barnard College. In July, she was named executive director of New York-based Stonewall Community Foundation, an organization devoted to awarding grants to community LGBT organizations, but stepped down a month later due to illness.

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, among many other organizations and individuals, paid tribute to Ettelbrick today.

“Beautiful, articulate, smart and hard-hitting, Paula was a force to be reckoned with,” GMHC said. “We will miss her fierceness, eloquence and graciousness.”

Lambda Legal’s Executive Director Kevin Cathcart echoed this sentiment.

“We mourn the loss of one of the pioneers of our movement for equality under the law and a woman who never stopped fighting for social justice. When Paula Ettelbrick came to Lambda Legal twenty-five years ago to fight for the rights of gay men and lesbians, it took not only vision and a passion for justice – it also took courage to stand up in court and in the public eye during that earlier time in our history. Paula was fearless. She was among a generation of lawyers, feminists and activists that helped to shape our movement. At Lambda Legal, she fought for the rights of lesbian and gay parents and lesbian and gay students, and helped to shape the strategy that eventually overturned sodomy laws.”

Ettelbrick is survived by her partner and three children. GLAAD mourns Ettelbrick’s passing and wishes her family and friends well during this difficult time.