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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
Paula Ettelbrick, LGBT rights hero, dies
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Paula Ettelbrick, LGBT rights hero, dies

By Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Paula Louise Ettelbrick died Friday morning, October 7, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. She was 56.

Richard Burns, who succeeded her in August as Executive Director of New York's Stonewall Community Foundation, recalled her achievements in a statement issued the same day.

'There are countless LGBTQ citizens around the world whose lives are better today because of Paula. Paula was a passionate and powerful advocate for all LGBTQ New Yorkers and a true friend. At Stonewall, we're grateful for all she did for the foundation and we'll miss her greatly,' Burns said.

She was Stonewall's first woman Executive Director.

While there, she launched Out In Front New York, a comprehensive training initiative for LGBTQ non-profit leaders and board members, and laid the groundwork for the Foundation's newest giving circle, Stonewall Professional Alliance, a program which combines monthly giving with community service.

Ettelbrick expanded the foundation's programming and reaffirmed the Stonewall Community Foundation as a leading force in New York City's LGBTQ community.

Matthew Ryan, Stonewall's board president, called her 'a champion for our community for decades.'

'Stonewall benefited tremendously over the past year from her historic perspective and her unique talent in bringing people together. Both the Stonewall membership and the New York City LGBTQ organizations that Stonewall supports offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends,' Ryan added.

Ettelbrick built on 25 years of experience in feminist and progressive movements, including leadership roles in a number of US and international LGBT organizations.

As Lambda Legal's first staff attorney, and subsequently as Legal Director from 1986 to 1993 Ettelbrick helped shape the community's national legal agenda and made Lambda the nation's leading LGBT legal advocacy group.

Under her leadership Lambda's work grew to include a broad range of cases in states throughout the United States.

Ettelbrick also created an education and communications department to support the group's work, doubled staff, and opened offices in Los Angeles and Chicago in addition to the New York headquarters.

In 1993 Ettelbrick became Public Policy Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and worked with the US Congress and other federal agencies to move forward a lesbian health and federal civil rights agenda.

In 1994 Ettelbrick joined the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York's statewide LGBT political group. As its legislative counsel she lobbied state and local governments for LGBT civil rights and funding for services. She also co-founded the Federation of LGBT Statewide Political Groups.

Beginning in 1999, Ettelbrick served as family policy director for the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a post she held until late 2001.

In 2003, she became Executive Director of the IGLHRC, committing the organization to using international law as a way to secure the basic rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS. She remained at the head of IGLHRC till 2009.

She also taught courses on sexuality and the law, and marital and non-marital family structures at the University of Michigan, New York University, Columbia University, and Wayne State law schools.

Her career was not without controversy. As director of the IGLHRC, she was often criticized by Gay blogger Michael Petrelis for being too cautious in condemning the actions of foreign governments like Iran,

Nevertheless, almost all of those who worked with Ettelbrick ended up admiring her. New York's GHMC Center for HIV Prevention said in an obituary for her:

'Beautiful, articulate, smart and hard-hitting, Paula was a force to be reckoned with. We will miss her fierceness, eloquence and graciousness. We send our tender thoughts to all the members of her family, chosen and biological, as well as all those who have been touched by Paula's life and work.'

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