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Lee Badgett on the economic case for LGBT equality

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M.V. Lee Badgett is an accessible scholar. With a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California/ Berkeley, she practices her motto as a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and as a Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, which she helped co-found and where she served as the first research director.

“I study LGBT inequality to learn how to end it,” says Badgett.

Her latest book on the economic toll of LGBT discrimination, The Economic Case for LGBT Equality, is not only accessible to a general audience but educates smart economists, too. Janet Yellen, the popular former Chair and Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve during the Obama administration and now a Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, calls the book “eye-opening in its global scope…a must-read for all business leaders and policymakers.”

In fact, Badgett’s research at the Williams Institute on the tax disparity paid by same-sex and opposite-sex married couples has been acknowledged by companies and institutions as the reason they changed their employee benefits policies.

LGBTQ Californians perhaps remember Badgett best for her grueling hours of unflinching testimony during Day 6 of the federal Prop 8 trial in San Francisco in 2010. She told plaintiffs’ attorney David Boies about the “substantial economic harm” done by Prop 8 to same-sex couples denied the right to marry and to  California’s economy. Prop 8 attorney Charles Cooper tried to poke holes in her expert testimony by asking the searing question: “Would it be fair to call you a gay rights activist?”

The Economic Case for LGBT Equality, Badgett tells the Los Angeles Blade, is an attempt to explain “why it’s a good idea to have full inclusion for LGBT people in our societies — and the economic reasons are a big piece of that.”

If countries want to improve economically, “then you have to take a good close look at how well you’re treating LGBT people. And for that matter, other groups that are traditionally disadvantaged, women and people of color.  But I think people haven’t heard it so much for LGBT people, except in that business context,” she says. But “it’s not just what’s good for General Motors is good for the United States. It’s really what’s good for us all, for the whole economy, is also good for businesses.”

Studies show that good LGBT policies make a difference for businesses and something similar holds true for countries.

“We see that the countries that have better policies, nondiscrimination laws, recognition of families, decriminalization of homosexuality,” Badgett says, “are also the countries that do better economically.”

So what about the United States, which has been rolling back LGBT policies and protections and now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, faces a deep economic recession, if not depression?

Even without specific health or economic data to prove the point, the LGBTQ community is going to get “hammered,” Badgett says.

“Going into the pandemic and into this emerging recession, depression, whatever it turns out to be, our community was not in good shape,” she says. “We have had decades of stigma and discrimination and it takes its toll on people’s health. So, LGBT people went into this pandemic with preexisting conditions, with thinking that they may face discrimination in healthcare settings. Basically, you couldn’t design it better to hit LGBT people harder.”

On the economic side, Badgett says that one of her most recent studies with the Williams Institute “showed that LGBT people are more likely to be poor, transgender people in particular — 29% of them fall below the poverty level, according to that study. There’s no clear safety net, in many cases, for these folks. They don’t have savings to rely on, some of them don’t have homes to live in. So they are going to be in an especially vulnerable position.

“And then on average, we know from lots of other measures, that there are economic challenges that LGBT people face, whether it’s discrimination or wage gaps — these are all things that are going to make recessions and depressions even harder on our community.”

The long-term question then becomes: “what do we want to build back up toward?” Badgett asks.

“If you’re thinking about what does that mean for what we do, trying to go forward, I think it means that we have to look hard at our institutions,” she says, “places where LGBT people are facing discrimination, other kinds of challenges in the healthcare settings and try to change those as we try to pull them all back into motion. So that’s the long- term view — that we have to build equality into the new normal, whatever we’re trying to get back to.”

Though the book predates COVID, “it’s very much about how everybody’s fates are linked. In the case of COVID, it’s global, it’s local,” Badgett says. “In the case of LGBT people, I think what people often don’t think about is the fact that discrimination against a gay man or a transgender woman isn’t just hurting them, but it’s actually ultimately hurting our whole economy. So, we really have an interest in what happens to other people — that other people’s lives matter to us, even when we don’t realize it.

“And so,” Badgett continues, “it’s really in everyone’s interest, in my view, to make sure we have a more equal, fair society because it will work better for everybody.”

The Williams Institute is hosting a webinar conversation between Badgett and Ari Shaw, Director of International Programs, on May 26, 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET to discuss The Economic Case for LGBT Equality. The event is free but an RSVP is required. Go to bit.ly/EcEqualityRSVP.

 

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Love of baseball unites father, gay son

‘Magic Season’ explores family life after a tragedy

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(Book cover image courtesy of Hanover Square Press)

‘Magic Season: A Son’s Story’
By Wade Rouse
c.2022, Hanover Square Press
$27.99/ 304 pages

You’ve always looked up to your dad.

Sometimes it happened literally, like when you were a child and “up” was the only way to see his face hovering over yours. You’ve looked up at him in anger, embarrassment, dismissal, and yeah, you’ve looked up to him in the best ways, too – never forgetting, as in the memoir “Magic Season” by Wade Rouse, that sometimes, the hardest thing is seeing eye-to-eye.

Wade Rouse threw like a girl.

He couldn’t catch a baseball, either, and he wasn’t much of a runner as a young boy. He tried, because his father insisted on it but Rouse was better with words and books and thoughts. He was nothing like his elder brother, Todd, who was a natural hunter, a good sportsman, and an athlete, and their father never let Rouse forget it.

And yet, curiously, Rouse and his dad bonded over baseball.

Specifically, their love of Cardinals baseball became the one passion they shared. The stats, the players, the idea that “Anything can happen,” the hope that there’d be a World Series at the end of every season was the glue they needed. It was what saved them when Todd was killed in a motorcycle accident. When Rouse came out to his father, Cards baseball was what brought them back together after two years of estrangement.

In between games, though, and between seasons, there was yelling, cruelty, and all the times when father and son didn’t communicate. Rouse accepted, but didn’t like, his father’s alcoholism or his harsh life-lessons: his father didn’t like Rouse’s plans for his own future. Rouse admits that he cried a lot, and he was surprised at the rare times when his father displayed emotion – especially since an Ozarks man like Ted Rouse didn’t do things like that.

Until the time was right.

Love, Wade Rouse says, is “shaped like a baseball.” You catch it, throw it, or hit it out of the park, but “You don’t know where it’s going.”

Just be sure you never take “your eye off it, from beginning to end.”

Oh, my. “Magic Season” is a 10-hankie book.

First, though, you’re going to laugh because author Wade Rouse is a natural-born humorist and his family is a great launching-pad for him despite the splinters and near-clawing despair of the overall theme of this book. That sense of humor can’t seem to let a good story go, even when it’s obvious that there’s something heartbreaking waiting in the bullpen.

Which brings us to the father-son-baseball triple-play. It may seem to some readers that such a book has been done and done again, but this one feels different. Rouse excels at filling in the blanks on the other, essential teammates in this tale and, like any big skirmish, readers are left breathless, now knowing the final score until the last out.

If you like your memoirs sweet, but with a dash of spice and some tears, here you go. For you, “Magic Season” is a book to look up.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Calhoun and O’Hara give us hope that art will still be a life force

New memoir ‘Also a Poet’ will inspire readers

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(Book cover image courtesy of Grove Press)

‘Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me’
By Ada Calhoun
c.2022, Grove Press
$27/259 pages

Families. Especially if your parents are acclaimed writers and artists, they can get under your skin. They love you, but sometimes withhold praise and suck the air out of the room. You wonder if you’ll end up as a second-string imitation of your famous folks.

That was what growing up was like for writer Ada Calhoun, author of the new memoir “Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father and Me.”  

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy wrote in “Anna Karenina.”

If you’re queer, you know not only how right Tolstoy was, but that family tension makes for riveting reading.

Calhoun, a lifelong New Yorker who grew up in the East Village, doesn’t disappoint. 

Her parents are creative and talented. Her mother Brooke Alderson started out performing stand-up comedy in lesbian bars. Later, she was an actress whose most well-known roles were in “Urban Cowboy” and “Family Ties.”

Her father Peter Schjeldahl, born in 1942, is a poet and The New Yorker art critic.

Schjeldahl is far from a pompous gasbag. As The New York Times book critic Molly Young said recently, in his book “Hot, Cold, Heavy, 100 Art Writings 1988-2018,” Schjeldahl received, perhaps, the most awesome blurb ever. “Bruce is no longer the Boss; Schjeldahl is!” Steve Martin said of the volume.

Not surprisingly, Calhoun didn’t have a typical childhood.

Gay writer Christopher Isherwood, author of “The Berlin Stories,” was among those who Calhoun’s parents hung out with. “One of the most agreeable children imaginable,” Isherwood said of Calhoun when she was a child, “neither sulky nor sly nor pushy nor ugly, with a charming trustful smile for all of us.”

Most of us as kids see “The Nutcracker” with an aunt or grandma. Calhoun saw the holiday classic with a “dreamboat” poet. An artist posing topless so other painters could paint her wasn’t shocking to the young Calhoun.

While Calhoun’s Mom makes several memorable appearances, “Also a Poet” is focused on Calhoun’s relationship with her father.

Relationships between daughters and fathers can be difficult. But they’re often more fraught when the dad is a renowned writer. Especially when Calhoun, born in 1976, was growing up.

Then (thankfully, to a lesser extent, now) if you were a male writer, life in your household centered around you. You didn’t help with housework or pay much attention to your spouse and kids.

Though Calhoun was raised in the sophisticated East Village, life with her father fit this pattern. One day, Schjeldahl let her go alone, with no directions, at age eight on a bus to a friend’s birthday party. 

When she was young, Calhoun wanted to escape the Village literary life. “My typical answer was farmer because that was the most tangible, least cosmopolitan option I could think of,” Calhoun writes, when as a kid, people asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

But Calhoun couldn’t evade the clutches of the writing bug. From early on, she wanted to get away from her father’s shadow. So her work could be judged on its own merit. She changed her last name from Schjeldahl to her middle name Calhoun.

Despite their difficulties, one thing bonded Calhoun with her dad: their love of Frank O’Hara, the openly queer poet and Museum of Modern Art curator, who died at 40 in a Jeep accident on Fire Island in 1966.

In the 1970s, Schjeldahl, who like so many poets, writers and artists then and now, idolized O’Hara, tried to write a biography of the beloved poet. But O’Hara’s sister and executor Maureen Granville-Smith derailed his attempt to write the bio.

But all wasn’t lost. Decades later, Calhoun discovered the tapes of the people (from Larry Rivers to Willem de Kooning) who Schjeldalhl had interviewed for the project in the basement of her parents’ building. 

In a magnificent Rubik’s Cube of literary history and memory, Calhoun weaves a tale of family and of making art. 

The memoir will inspire you to read O’Hara. O’Hara wrote funny and moving poems out of the pop culture and sadness of his time (from the “The Day Lady Died” on the death of Billie Holiday to the hilarious “Poem” – with the line “Lana Turner has collapsed!” to “Personal Poem” about Miles Davis being beaten by cops).

“His life force was on the page,” Grace Cavalieri, Maryland’s poet laureate and the producer/host of the radio show “The Poet and the Poem, said of O’Hara in an email to the Blade.

In this “Don’t Say Gay” era, Calhoun and O’Hara give us hope that art will still be a life force.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

New queer biographies make for ideal summer reading

Array of options, from somber to outlandish

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‘How You Get Famous’ by Nicole Pasulka is a fun read about drag in Brooklyn.

Another Pride month is in the can.

All that planning, preparation and execution of events is done, and now you find yourself with lots of time on your hands. So why not reach for one of these great memoirs to read?

A little bit of memoir, a little bit of sympathy, advice, and several biographies are at the heart of “Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life” by Rowan Ellis, illustrated by Jacky Sheridan (Quarto, $14.99). This book leans mostly on the serious-but-lighter side, with plenty of colorful artwork and suggestions for teen girls on figuring out who they are and what it means. There are fun activities, quizzes, essays, and tips inside; readers will find plenty of one-liners to take away, a comprehensive timeline of LGBTQ history, and biographies that reflect women of many ages and races. That all makes this a book that even adult women and, perhaps, some questioning boys will appreciate.


Speaking of lighthearted, try “Start Without Me (I’ll Be There in a Minute)” by Gary Janetti (Holt, $27.99). TV producer, writer, social media star, and sometimes curmudgeon Janetti is annoyed. Mighty annoyed in several essays here, but his aggravation is not meant to bring readers down. It’s meant to make you laugh and – with very funny, wry takes on finding the perfect tan and the perfect man, friendship with a nun, hotel rooms, mothers-in-law, “The Wizard of Oz,” vacations, weddings, and more – you will.


For something a little more somber, reach for “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad” by Hil Malatino (University of Minnesota Press, $21.95). Honesty is at the root of this semi-biographical look at being trans: if you are trans, says Malatino, you may struggle with several righteously negative feelings you have — disconnect, anger, fear, numbness, burnout, exhaustion — feelings that exist, in part, because of the times in which we live now and the transphobia that seems to be everywhere. Counteracting these feelings – or, at least being able to survive and thrive despite them – may be as simple as some type of activism, and Malatino explains the details as he shares his own story as well as many case studies.


And finally, if you love watching or participating in drag, then you’ll absolutely love “How You Get Famous” by Nicole Pasulka (Simon & Schuster, $27.99). This book tells the story of a coat-check boy who loved performing in drag and who talked her bar-owning boss into letting her host a drag show in Brooklyn. But this was no one-night stand and soon, the event had a lot of fans – among them, dozens of “kids” who sneaked into the club to practice their acts next to experienced performers. But when you’re on the edge of what’s about to be a popular kind of entertainment, amateur status doesn’t last long enough – and neither does this upbeat, wonderful book.


And if these don’t fit the bill, be sure to ask your favorite booksellers or librarians for help. They’ve got your next best read in the can.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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