MV Lee Badgett - “I Take a Vow of Never Being a Helicopter Researcher Again!"

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Jan 29, 2018
by Nicole Bogart
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MV Lee Badgett - “I Take a Vow of Never Being a Helicopter Researcher Again!"

Economist and academic on how Salzburg Global has affected her work

The Salzburg Global LGBT Forum doesn’t only bring together activists. The Forum seeks to build broad alliances that include LGBT rights defenders and supporters across multiple spheres including law, politics, the arts and academia.

M. V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics whose research focuses on LGBT poverty and employment discrimination, and she is writing a new book on the economic case for LGBT equality. A two-time Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, her past work has helped debunk the myth of gay affluence and examined the positive experience with regards to marriage equality for same-sex couples in the US and Europe. Her research also discovered that homophobia costs the Indian economy $31billion per year. Badgett’s third book The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World gives practical advice to academics about engagement in public debates.

What has been your experience at the LGBT Forum?

It’s a little clichéd, but it’s opened up the world in terms of LGBT activism. I had met lots of activists at more ordinary conferences, but I never had the chance to get to know them as friends, to play ping pong, to dance and drink and have intense conversations over a meal. And everybody just wanted to engage, and I felt like I made a lot of connections and close friends over a short period of time.

Did this inspire your work?

For one thing, it made it possible for me to take a vow of never being a helicopter researcher again! I have no excuse now for doing a project on a country and not talking to someone I know from that country first.

The other thing was that I had a couple of projects and trips come directly out of conversations here. One involved working with UNDP to start an LGBTI Inclusion Index. I met Cliff Cortez here, who was then with UNDP [Cortez is now with the World Bank], and we had conversations in Salzburg about the need for better data and more research on LGBT people, and a few months later we started working together on aspects of that index. And we’re still working on it.

Someone I met here – Hyun Kyung Kim – wanted to translate a book [When Gay People Get Married] I had written into Korean, so she and a few colleagues worked on that and I ended up going to Korea for a book launch and did a bunch of public speaking there. On that same trip, another Fellow, Wei Wei invited me to speak at his university in Shanghai and arranged another talk at Renmin University in Beijing. The Beijing visit also included a tour of the LGBT Cultural Center with Xin Ying and a wonderful lunch with some of the other LGBT activists in their building.  So Salzburg creates a web of connections — one always intersects with another!

What other action have you taken with Forum members outside of Salzburg?

There was a Ugandan activist [Stella Nyanzi, an LGBTQ theorist and research fellow at Makerere University, Kampala] who had been jailed for about a month, so I reached out to Kasha [Nabagesera, Ugandan LGBT activist and Fellow of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum] just to see if there was anything I could do, and she recommended a petition and more pressure from international bodies. So a colleague and I launched a petition campaign and got at least 500 other academics to say this was a violation of academic freedom.

How would you describe the Forum to someone who has never been?

I get to hear people talk about the work that they do, and I get to know them as human beings at the same time — and that’s just something that doesn’t happen at other conferences.


Lee Badgett on the reinvigorated state of LGBT activism in the US