Good Scholarship, Good Citizenship

By Andrew Huff

Dr. Dana Beyer (ΦBK, Cornell University, 1974) has become an emblem of a life lived according to the liberal arts philosophy. 

I’ve had an interdisciplinary education from the very beginning,” she says. “My parents were very directed at making sure I had the broadest possible education. It wasn’t just science. I was raised in a culture that valued philosophy, debate, and poetry.” 

The former eye surgeon is currently devoted to gender rights advocacy – and may become Maryland’s first openly transgender state senator in this year’s election.

According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, Beyer is running against incumbent Rich Madaleno (the state’s first openly gay senator) to represent District 18 in the Maryland General Assembly. Beyer unsuccessfully sought election to the position in 2006 and 2010.

In late March, the state legislature passed Senator Madaleno’s Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in matters of employment, housing, and public accommodation across the state. The bill now awaits the signature of Governor Martin O’Malley to become law. 

Moving forward, Beyer believes that the state should turn to the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs as a model for integrating LGBT perspectives into government.

“It’s about having a seat at the table,” Beyer says, not simply pressing for equality from outside the levers of power.

Beyer herself has a strong history of working in the vanguard to advance this agenda.

In her capacity as the executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, Beyer helped pass gender identity non-discrimination ordinances in three counties in the state. She has also held positions on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Legislative Council and the board of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

According to her online biography, Beyer’s official political activism began when she retired from medical practice in 1990.

Her biography continues to note that after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1978, Beyer first relocated to Kenya as a physician. She later completed a medical internship at George Washington University Hospital and then a medical residency at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida. With a specialization in eye surgery, she later traveled to Nepal as part of the World Health Organization’s Prevention of Blindness Program. 

Reflecting on the scope of her professional life, Beyer says “one of the most exciting things about my current career is that everything I’ve done before has value.” Her work as a surgeon and scientist, for instance, taught her endurance and dedication; as a candidate for office, this medical perspective now grants her key insight into public health issues facing Maryland communities.

Since 2013, Beyer has also been a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post (“Entries by Dana Beyer”). Echoes of her medical training resound in a recent piece concerning transgender equality. 

In “Harm Reduction, Covering, and Voice for the Voiceless,” published by the Huffington Post in April, Beyer writes: “Being an ally requires acting with integrity, and respecting the community for which you claim to speak. First, do no harm, and if you have nothing positive to say, stay silent. Make the community for which you speak, not your media or political ratings, your priority.”

Like good scholarship, being an ally requires dedication – and may not deliver immediate results. Beyer notes that embracing the first is especially hard today due to our “quarterly report culture” that values short-term results over long-term thinking.

One solution lies in merging Phi Beta Kappa’s value of good scholarship with Beyer’s vision of community allyship. A key starting point, for Beyer, is the need to partake in the effort to “rekindle a sense of the dignity in labor – whatever that labor is – just do the job well, take pride in the job, and that will stay with you.”

As Beyer’s life and words, show, both good scholarship and good citizenship have their roots in this kind of integrity and authenticity.

Andrew Huff is a senior at Goucher College majoring in Political Science. Goucher College is home to the Beta of the Maryland Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.