Meet Interim Executive Director Richard Burns

Lifelong LGBTQ+ Activist and GLAD Interim Executive Director Richard Burns Cites the Need for Vigilance in the Battle for Full LGBTQ+ Equality and Liberation 

Richard, a cis white man with short gray and auburn hair, stands at a podium wearing a navy blue suit
The American LGBTQ Museum Groundbreaking Ceremony © Leandro Justen

As GLAD prepares to begin a robust national search for the leader who will steer the organization’s next chapter, the board is pleased to bring on lifelong LGBTQ+ activist Richard Burns as Interim Executive Director. Richard began his tenure on October 10. 

“Leadership transitions are important milestones in any organization at any time,” says GLAD Board President Shane Dunn. “When the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and especially transgender people, are so virulently under attack across the country, and threats to our democracy are creating new barriers to our mission of realizing LGBTQ+, racial, HIV, and gender justice, we recognize an even greater responsibility to be thorough and thoughtful in this process.”  

“We must have a commitment to vigilance, always. The battle for LGBTQ+ equality and liberation will go on for generations. We have to have heart. We have to have grit. We have to have resilience and hope.” 

Richard Burns

“With significant leadership experience, including multiple tenures as an interim Executive Director, and a deep commitment to GLAD’s goals as an anti-racist, intergenerational legal advocacy organization, Richard will be able to support GLAD’s ongoing critical work with minimal disruption, allowing us the time to develop a careful search process and a diverse, talented, and passionate candidate pool for GLAD’s next permanent Executive Director,” Dunn adds

Richard’s passion for justice and commitment to advancing equality has led him from Boston to New York and across the country as an advocate and organizational leader. He served more than twenty years as Executive Director of the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center beginning at the height of the AIDS crisis, and later developed and led the LGBT Leadership Initiative previously housed at the Arcus Foundation.  

In recent years, he has effectively steered several social and racial justice-focused organizations through transition periods as an interim ED, including the Drug Policy Alliance, the North Star Fund, the Funding Exchange, Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the Stonewall Community Foundation, Lambda Legal, and, most recently the Johnson Family Foundation.  

But “Boston formed me,” Richard says, speaking of his roots in the LGBTQ+ legal advocacy movement and, specifically, with GLAD.

In addition to co-founding the Massachusetts LGBTQ+ Bar Association and the Boston Lesbian & Gay Policy Alliance in 1982, he was president of GLAD’s founding board from 1978-1986 and has maintained his commitment to the organization for 45 years.  

He talks of GLAD’s radical founding by John Ward at a time when movements for LGBTQ+, racial, and gender justice were converging, and new organizations began to spring up together to advance liberation for all people. On his first day of law school at Northeastern in 1980, Richard met the late Urvashi Vaid – long-time LGBTQ+ activist and a former GLAD Spirit of Justice honoree – who would become a lifelong friend, a GLAD colleague as an early legal intern, and an inspiration in conceptualizing revolutionary, inclusive queer liberation. Richard is chair of the founding Board of the American LGBTQ+ Museum, an in-development project co-founded by Urvashi, among others, to preserve, research, and share LGBTQ+ history and culture. 

Kevin Cathcart, Richard Burns & Urvashi Vaid in front of Spiritus in Provincetown, late 1990’s

In the late 1970s, Richard was managing editor of the Boston-based national feminist, progressive LGBTQ+ newsweekly Gay Community News (GCN), which both chronicled and shaped intersectional queer activism at the time. GCN had an active early prison pen pal program, and Richard was a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons declared GCN and another publication, the Task Force’s It’s Time, obscene and tried to block distribution to incarcerated individuals.  

Richard also has the rare distinction of involvement with all three of our major LGBTQ+ legal organizations. In addition to his founding role with GLAD, Richard clerked at the National Center for Lesbian Rights while in law school and served on the board of Lambda Legal beginning in 1980.

In preparing to take on the Interim Director role at GLAD at this pivotal moment, Richard is clear that we must take lessons both from the early days of LGBTQ+ and AIDS activism and draw on the wisdom of today’s justice fighters – working with, and learning from, all movements for liberation.   

“We all bring all of our identities with us everywhere. In order to build a just society, we’ve got to take into account all of our collective identities. We can’t leave anyone behind,” Richard says.  

Recognizing that the far right has all of us in its sights–our movements for reproductive justice, racial equity, LGBTQ+ liberation, and beyond – he adds:

“We must have a commitment to vigilance, always. The battle for LGBTQ+ equality and liberation will go on for generations. We have to have heart. We have to have grit. We have to have resilience and hope.” 

Opportunities to Meet GLAD’s Interim Executive Director: 

Wednesday, October 25: Defining Gay Community News 

Richard Burns will moderate a panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of Gay Community News on Wednesday, October 25, 6 p.m., at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Visit the History Project for details. 

Thursday, November 9: Spirit of Justice 

Richard will speak at our annual Spirit of Justice Award Dinner. Visit to join us. 

This story was originally published in the Fall 2023 GLAD Briefs Newsletter. Read more.