On October 7, 2011, Paula Ettlelbrick left this life.
Paula and I were never 100% clear on where we had first met. We only knew that we both had known each other and known of each other for years before we had a chance to work together at IGLHRC in 2006. While I had worked primarily in the Black gay community in New York City, and then spent nearly 20 years working on social and economic development issues in Africa, Paula had been a maverick lawyer, challenging LGBT oppression throughout the United States with her own fierce brand of politics, strategem, and chutzpah.
Paula was IGLHRC's third Executive Director, and took our organization to whole new places in terms of capacity and depth. Under her leadership, our budget nearly doubled, our engagement with activists and movements in Africa and the Middle East increased. Thanks to her skills as a lawyer, we became more firmly grounded in international and domestic legal principles. She brought gravitas, humor and spunk to our organization.
Paula was so many things to so many people-- the movement, the New York City and global queer communities. I was always the most impressed by her commitment to family. She had a big self-defined family, that included two wonderful kids that she adored, a warm family of origin, and a beautiful collection of friends, former life partners, and girlfriend. Yes, as Urvashi said best in her blog—Paula was a hot, sexy woman, an inspiration to those of us entering and living in our fifties. I was always impressed by the women she chose to love and who obviously loved her right back.
Paula was genuinely deeply unfalteringly committed to our liberation as LGBT people. She also had a deep respect for all progressive movements and causes. She was also one of the most sophisticated strategists I've ever met. Though we disagreed from time to time, I always took her advice around approach and politics very seriously. Paula was more about goals than she was about personalities--she forgave and forgot and got busy with the work at hand.
One of my fondest memories of Paula will be the overnight we did at the Hobbiit Guest House in Bloemfontein, the Free State, South Africa. We had driven all day from Johannesburg to have the most inspiring dinner with Supreme Court Judge Edwin Cameroon. Edwin was his usual charming self—he seemed as enthralled with Paula as she had been with him. Paula and I returned to our lodgings both of us high on the day, the surroundings, a few glasses of South African chardonnay and our extreme luck at being right here, right now.
More will be said about Paula by many in the coming weeks, as we have lost an icon of our movement.
A luta continua, Paula. Rest in peace.
Published on October 7, 2011 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization