NYC LGBT Community Mourns Paula Ettelbrick

Longtime activist and leader will “be deeply missed”

Paul Ettelbrick, an attorney and former director of several LGBT civil rights organizations, died Friday from complications from cancer. Local and state community leaders, and countless people who benefited from her tenacious fight for human rights and equality, acknowledged the outsized role she played in New York’s LGBT movement for more than 25 years.

Ettelbrick discerned early in her life that underrepresented groups—LGBT Americans, women, the homeless—were left behind by a political and legal system that failed to serve them. While a student, she worked with social services organizations and the United Auto Workers; she joined Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund as its first staff attorney in 1986, and then as its legal director from 1988 to 1993. She litigated numerous cases involving AIDS and sexual orientation law.

In 1993 she became the director of public policy for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where she worked on family and health care policy issues. She also taught LGBT courses at the University of Michigan Law School, Barnard College, Wayne State University Law School and Columbia Law School; and served as Legislative Counsel to Empire State Pride Agenda, the statewide LGBT civil rights organization, from 1994 to 1999. She continued her policy work at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1999 to 2001, and then joined the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as its executive director in 2003.

Most recently, Ettelbrick served as the executive director of the Stonewall Community Foundation, but was forced to resign after a few months due to health concerns. Members of the organizations she collaborated with for more than a quarter-century praised her leadership and spirit.


Gay Men’s Health Crisis lauded Ettelbrick’s dedication to the international fight against HIV/AIDS. “When the Bush Administration’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) had a lack of funding allocated for prevention programs targeting gay men and women, she stated in 2006, ‘The U.S. government is doing nothing to ensure that any attention is being paid to the spread of the epidemic among men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women, particularly in Africa. This negligence could sabotage the entire HIV prevention effort overseas.’”

Ross D. Levi, Pride Agenda’s executive director, recalled the important work she accomplished on the local level. “While at the Pride Agenda, Paula was a strong, pioneering voice for LGBT family issues. She negotiated New York City’s landmark 1997 domestic partnership law with then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. At the time, it was the nation’s most comprehensive measure of its kind, extending to domestic partners all the same rights and benefits offered to spouses under city law.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the LGBT movement in New York and across America would not be where it is today without Paula’s tenacity and leadership. She will be deeply missed.”

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