The Republican Party may be down, but make no mistake, it is far from out.
The foundation of its revolution is still solid, and perhaps more energized than ever. I’m not talking about the “Get Out the Vote” folks or candidates vying for office. I’m talking about the base from which most Republican activity evolves.
Former New Jersey U.S. Senator and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley wrote a piece in the March 30, 2005, New York Times entitled “A Party Inverted,” which explained that the GOP is structured like a pyramid – with the top being the president, who can be changed every four years, and the base being the rich conservative financiers and the Republican think tanks they finance.
It’s those think tanks – like the Family Research Institute or the Heritage Foundation – that have armed the Republicans with the “facts and figures” they use to advance their conservative agenda. These think tanks have been instrumental in casting us as demons and sinners in any of the myriad issues we fight for, from nondiscrimination laws to marriage equality.
Just because the Republicans have policy institutes doesn’t mean that tactically it’s the wrong way to do things. Developing think tanks on LGBT issues – and, hopefully, the well-to-do donor base one needs to fund them – is crucial if we are to succeed in being recognized as first-class citizens.
Lee Badgett, an out lesbian, who also happens to have a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, understands how important academia can be in shaping public policy – especially the public policy that affects our everyday lives.
Currently the research director of the Williams Institute at UCLA, Badgett founded what is considered the first LGBT academic think tank in the nation, the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS), in the mid-’90s when she was living in Washington, D.C.
“Living in D.C., I saw how important those big think tanks were. They were the heart of the Republican resurgence, well-funded, strategically creative – they pulled the various conservative movements together,” Badgett told me in a recent telephone interview. “Together with activists and academics, we formed IGLSS because we all saw we needed to have some kind of institution to bridge the big gap of what was happening in the academic world and the real world. We needed the facts and figures to fight back against the stereotypes and distortions from the right.”
When Badgett got a teaching job at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she brought IGLSS with her. As a separate not-for-profit, IGLSS was never formally associated with the school, but her colleagues were quite supportive. More of a virtual think tank than a bricks-and-mortar institution, IGLSS published a number of groundbreaking studies that have helped the community move forward.
“We’ve done a lot of family-related research on domestic-partner benefits and the economics of marriage. We looked at the fiscal impact same-sex marriage would have on states,” she said. “We’ve studied the psychological impact of antigay policies and the strategies to overcome them. We’ve also received funding from the Ford Foundation to do methodological research on how to ask questions about sexual orientation – it’s not as easy as you’d think.”
Badgett has successfully brought the Williams Institute and IGLSS together. “We’re talking about it as more of joining of forces,” she told me, but the reality is that IGLSS has merged with Williams, creating an even stronger, more academically rigorous think tank for our issues.
Whether Badgett will remain on the West Coast is a bit up in the air. She and her partner, Elizabeth Silver, a legal services attorney, are wife and wife in Massachusetts, so California, while warmer, may not ultimately be the best place for them. Badgett still has a position waiting for her in the UMass-Amherst economics department.
What will be in her future is more research on LGBT issues. “I’m sure that marriage will continue to be one of our biggest areas of research,” she said. “Policy makers want to know what the impact on their own particular states will be. These issues are pertinent everywhere because we are everywhere. We’ll be asking whether marriage really makes a difference for gay people, and what does it mean for those who don’t get married.”
She said that employment discrimination is also on the research agenda, since only 17 states have nondiscrimination laws. “A lot of people think this is good time to focus on this issue again,” she said. “We’re still lacking data – for some reason, people don’t want to believe that antigay discrimination really exists.”
As LGBT people, we live that reality every day. We know discrimination exists; we know that civil unions give us second-class status. With researchers like Badgett and think tanks like Williams, the truth (facts) will inevitably set us free.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.