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Lee Badgett – The reinvigorated state of LGBT* activism in post-election America

Professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst discusses how U.S. LGBT* activists continue to push for equality in the face of a new administration

Lee Badgett, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Nicole Bogart | 03.07.2017

Discussing the notion of “home” wasn’t a topic Lee Badgett, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, paid much mind to prior to the 2016 presidential election, which saw President Donald Trump elected. Yet when faced with the question “What is home?” during the fifth gathering of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging – Badgett says she found a defiant answer in this changing political landscape.

“We started thinking what if the worst happened? What is the wave of ugliness and hatred that seemed to be going on across the country? What if that built into something that looks more like what we saw in the 30’s and 40’s in Germany? So my wife said maybe we should think about moving,” says Badgett.

“As we talked about it, the more adamant I was that [I wasn’t] going to move. This is my home. Maybe that is my definition of home – it’s the place I feel like they can’t kick me out of.”

Despite controversy over the Trump administration’s stance on LGBT* rights, Badgett says activists within the community have found more motivation to stay on task and keep moving toward equality.

“To go from having a president who was very supportive and did his best to facilitate making our rights real, we now have a congress and a president who don’t seem to care,” she says. “At the same time, activists of many kinds have been invigorated rather than intimidated. That gives me hope that we will be able to weather whatever happens. If it means holding on to our rights or pushing harder to extend them, one way or another it will happen.”

Badgett’s current research topics include LGBT* poverty and employment discrimination. She is currently writing a new book examining the economic case for LGBT* equality, while her past research debunked the myth of gay affluence and examined the positive experience regarding marriage equality for same-sex couples in the U.S. and Europe.

As a Fellow of the third Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum –  Strengthening Communities: LGBT* Human Rights and Social Cohesion –  Badgett credits Salzburg Global for enriching her research on LGBT* rights and economics.

“It’s had a big impact on me to think about what the lives of LGBT people are like. What do we know about them; what don’t we know? This is probably an occupational hazard of being an economist, [but] when I hear a story I think that’s very powerful and reveals a bit of life – it’s also data,” she says.

“If I learn from it, I think other people could too. But maybe then we would also want to know more widely how common is that experience; how many other people experience it; and where do they experience it more than in other places? It always makes me ask more questions.”

Through her participation in the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum, Badgett has gained several connections which have led to projects outside the Forum, including research with UNDP on the LGBTI inclusion index. Connections with Fellows in South Korea provided the opportunity for one of her books to be translated and allowed her to facilitate talks in the country. She says her participation in the Forum has also provided an invaluable network of LGBT* activists she can turn to for research purposes.

“I can actually ask people, and that’s really very important to me. To not be the helicopter social scientist, but to be engaged in work that is going to help people make change where they are,” Badgett says. “[The Forum] really opened up some interesting and important doors for me as a person, and as a scholar, to be engaged in new issues.”

*LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender-nonconforming identities.


Lee Badgett was a participant at the fifth annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging. The session was supported by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth; the Archangel Michael Foundation; Open Society Foundations; Stiftung Erinnerung Verantwortung Zukunft; the Austrian Development Cooperation; UNDP; and Canadian 150. More information on the session can be found here: http://www.salzburgglobal.org/calendar/2010-2019/go/578.html

03.07.2017 Category: FACES OF LEADERSHIP, JUSTICE, LGBT
Nicole Bogart