Economist M.V. Lee Badgett is research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA and the director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Before participating in a panel on what comes next for same-sex marriage rights, she explained why she lives in the best place on earth to be gay in the Zócalo green room.
What’s the best place on earth to be gay?
Lesbianville, U.S.A. is where I live: Northampton, Massachusetts. We had a lesbian mayor, we have lesbian healthcare providers, lesbian neighbors. People were very supportive when [same-sex] marriages started happening here. That’s not the kind of support you can take for granted.
What’s the hardest thing about being an expert witness in court?
I think the hardest thing is knowing that there’s a judge, a referee—someone who would decide whether I was right or wrong, and had to make that decision. That’s something that academics often aren’t confronted with. Colleagues may disagree or agree with us, but we have our individual claims to thinking the way we do.
What’s your least favorite thing about the Internet?
It’s everywhere, and it’s hard to escape.
Who was your childhood hero?
There were a lot of people I admired. I grew up in North Carolina, and my family were big basketball fans. And [University of North Carolina coach] Dean Smith was a god in our house. But I admired the people who I saw in my family and were willing to be a little bit different. And that was helpful in later life.
Where do you go to be alone?
I have a wonderful study in my house that is far from the rest of my house and doesn’t have a television. It does have a Wi-Fi signal, which is bad. I can play my guitar and sing off-key. I can make a mess if I like to. That’s my little haven.
What is the last habit you tried to kick?
The one I’m still trying to kick is compulsively checking e-mail. I have some tricks to try to keep myself from doing it. I have a little meditation timer on my iPhone, and if it dings and I’m checking my e-mail, I know I have to turn away and get back to what I was doing.
What’s your least favorite road or freeway?
I live on the East Coast, so my least favorite is I-95. Too many trucks, too fast, too crowded.
Whose talent would you most like to have?
I have hobbies like playing the guitar and drawing and painting where I know that there are people who have a talent that I only can aspire to. In other realms, there are other people I think of as being able to see the turn of an idea. [University of Massachusetts Amherst economist] Nancy Folbre is quite good at that. She’s a wonderful writer; she can pull together a lot of different ideas and tie them together.
What profession would you like to practice in your next life?
I think I would be an environmental scientist. I’d get to work out in the real world, and they are doing work that’s essential.
What advice do you give students who are considering going into academia?
I tell them they have to really love research. They have to see it as something exciting and as something that will carry them through. And I always tell them, too, to think about the value of what they do. It’s not about research—it’s really about creating knowledge for the betterment of the world and making a difference in the world.