Mae Dunn, a student at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, has dedicated her life to combating discrimination against people with transgender and transsexual (“trans”) identities—first on the west coast, where she grew up, and now in New England.
As a Schweitzer Fellow, Dunn has spent the past 9 months traveling to professional schools throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. The workshops she delivers are aimed at empowering emerging professionals with the information and tools they need to provide compassionate, well-informed care and services to the often-misunderstood community of trans people.
“I hope, through this project, I am doing my part to reduce the amount of discrimination, suicide attempts, and violence faced by trans-identified individuals,” Dunn says.
Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
My project, which focuses on educating future professionals about trans identities (including transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming identities), developed out of my experiences as a trans person, as well as an active member of the trans community.
Discrimination, for the vast majority of trans people, is a hard fact of life experienced every day, at every turn. In a recent survey, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that discrimination against trans people is prevalent in a wide variety of areas. This survey showed that one in five trans respondents experienced homelessness, 22% reported being harassed by law enforcement, and 41% reported attempting suicide (compared to the 1.6% of the general population).
In combating these disheartening statistics, I believe our greatest tool is education. If people can have faces and stories to put alongside these statistics, then, I believe, discrimination could be replaced with awareness and compassion. Thus, in creating my project, I wanted to target future professionals, by teaching them about trans identities, and the challenges trans people face. As a Schweitzer Fellow, I have traveled to a wide variety of schools and venues, speaking about trans identities and how we can create change for this community within our region.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
I hope that future generations of professionals will have a better understanding of trans identities, and the challenges this community faces. Additionally, I hope that the people I speak to will share their knowledge to their colleagues, friends and families, which, in turn will spread the awareness and compassion. Trans people, like all people, deserve respect and kindness, and I hope that my project reminds future professionals of this simple philosophy.
Furthermore I hope, through this project, I am doing my part to reduce the amount of discrimination, suicide attempts, and violence faced by trans-identified individuals.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
Quite simply, I believe access, or lack thereof, is the most prevalent health related issue facing our world today. Not only trans people, but people across the globe, face a crippling inability to receive health care services that could save lives, or enhance the quality of life. It seems to me that health care is reserved for those who are wealthy enough to afford the hefty price-tag it carries. Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” remedy for this problem; a solution depends on a variety of factors, such as the location, the resources available, and the challenges faced by the community in question.
What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
The curiosity and desire to learn in the next generation of professionals has been truly inspiring. Although I have received some negative responses to this taboo subject, the vast majority of students have been eager to learn about trans identities. Students have been asking compassionate, inquisitive questions, which illustrate a desire to understand identities that they may not have encountered in the past. This has been not only inspiring, but also a signal that change is coming with this next generation of professionals.
What does being a Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?
It means a lifetime commitment to community service, with an understanding that, the greatest thing we can do is help those around us.
Mae Dunn is a Schweitzer Fellow in New Hampshire. Click here to read more about the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Dunn it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects. To make a gift to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in honor of Dunn’s efforts to replace discrimination with awareness and compassion, click here.
Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.