Carmen Vázquez, defiant LGBT+ champion and ‘long-time sexual freedom fighter’, dies after coronavirus battle

Carmen Vázquez smiles in a beige suit, white shirt and orange tie

LGBT+ social justice advocate Carmen Vázquez sadly died on Wednesday after losing her battle to coronavirus-related complications.

The 72-year-old spent much of her life fighting for social justice and LGBT+ rights.

Tributes of love, support and respect have been pouring in for Vázquez from LGBT+ campaign groups and organisations. 

The Human Rights Campaign announced on Twitter: “We are deeply saddened about the passing of Carmen Vázquez due to COVID-19. Carmen was a true trailblazer for LGBTQ equality and was a hero to so many, particularly Latinx LGBTQ folks. Our hearts go out to Carmen’s friends and loved ones.”

Vázquez is known as a “long-time sexual freedom fighter”.

After graduating from New York University, she moved to San Francisco in 1979 to co-found the Women’s Building, and to advocate issues spanning immigrant rights to lesbian health. 

The Women’s Building, which today hosts more than 20,000 women a year, is known as “a safe place focused on women’s issues”.  

She later went on to establish San Francisco’s Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, before returning to New York City in the mid-90s to set up the New York State LGBT Health and Health Services Network.

Born in Puerto Rico, Carmen grew up in the upper Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem.

Ahead of the 2010 Butch Voices’ Southwest conference in Los Angeles, she told the Bay Area Reporter: “We have the right to present as we want to present … We should be free to do what we want with our bodies.”  

According to the same publication, in 2012, Vázquez was enraged with policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because she said they threatened funding of sex education programs. She told the publication: “Twenty-five years of doing incredible work on hot and safe sex down the drain.”

Vázquez will be remembered for her activism and as a stalwart figure passionate about creating safe spaces for LGBT+ community members and LGBT+ youth. 

Last year, SAGE – known as the “largest and oldest organisation dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT+ elders” – presented Vazquez with a special award for Excellence in Leadership in Ageing Issues.

As she accepted the award, Vazquez addressed the audience with the following words: “Change is never about one person alone. There are countless others who paved the way for my activism, and countless others who will follow me and build a bridge to the future.

“We are and always will be an intergenerational movement, and we should act that way… Equality is not enough, justice and liberation are where our hearts and minds should lead us.”