Alumni Spotlight - Mason Dunn, JD '12
Mason Dunn, JD ’12 has made a career of advocating for inclusivity in policy decisions, education, and healthcare. In nearly two decades of experience in the LGBTQIA+ equality movement, they have worked tirelessly to address transgender rights in particular.
In Dunn’s newest role as Director of Education and Research for the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce they provide the training and resources to help companies build a more inclusive place for LGBTQ+ staff. Prior to joining the Chamber, Mason served as deputy director of Education and Training Programs at the Fenway Institute in Boston, where they oversaw the national LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center. While these positions were different, Dunn says, a major focus continues to be on advancing equity for the trans community.
“Right now, advocates are unfortunately having to address these anti-trans legislative attacks on healthcare,” Dunn says. “There are efforts underway across the country to limit, roll back, or, in some cases, criminalize trans-inclusive healthcare. Particularly for young trans and gender diverse individuals, that leaves a lot of health centers and clinicians asking how they can make sure their patients have access to equitable care.”
It is in taking on equity issues that Dunn pulls from their legal training and work in legislative policy for trans rights. A native of Southern California, Dunn moved to New England two years before enrolling at UNH Franklin Pierce, where they were a Daniel Webster Scholar. They chose the law school because of the opportunities available for collaboration in a smaller community, as well as chances to complete internships with the ACLU of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission. At UNH Franklin Pierce, Dunn developed close bonds with classmates, professors, and other staff members, who they credit with “setting me up for success after law school.”
Prior to joining the Fenway Institute, Dunn spent six years as executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, where they worked on correcting the language of non-discrimination protections to ensure that transgender and gender diverse individuals were treated equally.
“When the state passed non-discrimination protections broadly, they took out public accommodations. This meant that Massachusetts had legal protections for gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing, education, and credit lending; however, the legislature incorrectly thought they were taking out public restrooms when they removed public accommodations,” Dunn explains. “Public accommodations, according to the law, is simply any place open to the public. So when they took out public accommodations, the legislature effectively said that it was legal to discriminate against trans and gender diverse people in parks, libraries, the sidewalk, the hospital — anywhere open to the public. It took innovative advocacy to correct that mistake.”
The gap in the law was corrected in the legislature in 2016, but presented to the public by anti-trans activists for a referendum in 2018. To combat that effort, Dunn served as co-chair of the “Yes on 3” campaign, which successfully defended the Massachusetts trans-inclusive public accommodation nondiscrimination law.
“There had never been a public vote on transgender rights at a statewide level in the U.S.,” Dunn says, “so we had to shift the effort of changing hearts and minds of legislators into changing the hearts and minds of the general voter, many of whom had never met a transgender or gender diverse person.”
In their work for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Dunn also successfully advocated for the advancement of nonbinary gender markers (appearing as an “X”) on state IDs, making the Commonwealth the 10th state in the U.S. to adopt that policy, which took effect on November 12, 2019. Dunn’s current advocacy goes beyond their work at the the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce. They serve on the board of The Equality Federation and on the Massachusetts State Commission on LGBTQ Youth. In recognition of their efforts, Dunn was the recipient of the UNH Kidder Award for LGBTQ+ Inclusivity in Education, JALSA’s Advocate for Justice award, the Chief Justice Margaret Marshal Award from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and the Empowerment Beacon Award from the Boston Bar Association.
While there is still much work ahead, Dunn is pleased with the increased recognition of personal pronouns, growing representation of gender diversity in film and television, and the election of transgender legislators in New Hampshire and around the country, among other progress.
“There have been so many inspiring advancements,” Dunn says. “We have folks in all walks of life who are openly trans and actively beating back stereotypes, assumptions, and negative images of transgender people that were so pervasive when I first started this work back in 2004.”