Paula Ettelbrick, the former executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and most recently head of the Stonewall Community Foundation in New York, died this morning of ovarian cancer.
In her long career as attorney and activist, Paula helped build many of the key organizations fighting for LGBT rights in the United States: Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She was completely dedicated both to the movement, and to the broader need for progressive change in the US.
Paula fought hard on every level for what she believed in; and since she believed in many things with fixity and fire, she seemed always to have a new fight on her hands. She could be difficult, but she could also inspire. When I learned about her illness, I said to a friend that if she gave cancer half the grief she could give the rest of us, she’d live to be 150. I immediately felt a little guilty, but I imagine she would have understood the sentiment.
She fought, and she gave cancer a lot of grief in the end, I think; she loved life, its entanglements and causes, its old triumphs and its new battles, and she showed that all the time. I feel sad for her, for her family and friends, for the things she valued that will have one less warrior to fight for them; and I feel sad for the cantankerous, demanding love we feel for this treacherous thing called life, which we try to cling to and care for and enjoy forever, and which is the one passion that can never fully be requited in kind.