Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration M.V. Lee Badgett delivered her talk "Coming Out for Change” to a packed auditorium of students, faculty, and staff on Thursday, March 15, in the Campus Center.
Badgett began her talk by explaining how an individual’s actions can change the world, and she cited Mahatma Gandhi as an example. As Gandhi states in the first page of his autobiography “What is possible for one is possible for all... my experiments have been conducted in the open, not in the closet.” For Badgett, 'open' in Ghandi’s statement resonates; the choice by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) individuals to reject 'the closet' has led to change.
Badgett explains that coming out is a big step. For the LGBT community, there is the fear of violence, workplace discrimination, rejection by family members, or even bullying in the classroom. But, coming out can be positive. Providing an example for the audience, Badgett describes what could happen if someone came out to their coworkers in an office setting: if one person comes out in their office they gain personal benefits, which leads to more visibility of their needs and the needs of other LGBT coworkers, and ultimately creates a healthier work environment and stronger workplace policies. While the choice to come out about one’s sexuality is hard and often complicated, as Badgett shows, the benefits often outweigh the difficulty. Rarely do those who come out want to go back into the closet.
The inspiration that coming out sparks in others is contagious. As Badgett explained, truth inspires mores truth. In fact, the age of coming out is continually falling. Young people are coming out sooner. This openness builds movements, such as National Coming Out Day, and also leads to the creation of institutions that advance equality for the LGBT community. All of this is possible because people came out and built a network of support, said Badgett.
Badgett’s take-home point was that everyone, whether a part of the LGBT community or not, can change the world by coming out of our closets, whatever they may be. It takes truth and openness to change hearts and minds, and it all starts with an individual. One person can start a cycle.
Badgett's most recent book, When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage (NYU Press, 2009), focuses on the U.S. and European experiences with marriage equality for same-sex couples. Her first book, Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men(University of Chicago Press, 2001), presented her groundbreaking work debunking the myth of gay affluence. She is also the author or co-author of various journal articles and policy reports.
In 2009, Badgett delivered a Distinguished Faculty Lecture at UMass and received the Chancellor’s Medal. She also received the College Outstanding Teacher Award from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in 2000-2001.
Commonwealth Honors College introduced its Faculty Lecture Series during the spring 2011 semester in recognition of university faculty who have made significant contributions to research or creative activity. Many of the talks in the faculty lecture series relate to themes in "Ideas that Changed the World," the Honors Seminar in which honors students examine books and other works that have profoundly shaped the world we live in. The texts in this class and the related faculty lectures are meant to be exemplary for students who have the potential themselves to achieve outstanding things.