Dr. Mayson Bedient doesn’t know if he can call himself a changemaker quite yet – but he’d certainly like to be considered one someday.
“There are people in my life who I look up to and admire greatly for their ability to change the world, and it would be an honor to join them,” Mayson says.
Mayson, however, probably isn’t giving himself enough credit. The family practice physician from Webster, S.D., often speaks out about the issues he cares about - particularly LGBTQ+ rights.
“Because of my profession, I am in a position not only to offer the support of experience and encouragement, but also I can actively help people get the help they need,” he says.
Mayson’s expertise lends strength to his role as an educator.
“It means I have the degrees and training to back up my words, whether for testimony in the legislature, teaching for fellow providers, or general speaking to the public,” he says. “I also just like to talk, especially when it comes to issues about which I am passionate, so this works out well for me!”
So, whether or not Mayson considers himself a changemaker or not doesn’t matter. He’s getting the job done.
“Anything you feel passionate about is worth doing, in any capacity,” he said. “You never know when you might be a catalyst for more people to get involved and for bigger things to happen.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in rural New York state, did my undergraduate education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, then went to the West Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine where I got my medical degree. After those four years in West Virginia, I completed my three years of family medicine residency in central Pennsylvania before taking a job in northeastern South Dakota.
I practice family medicine, which means I do a little of everything in my work. There is a clinic with a small hospital and emergency room here, and I work in all of those areas plus nursing home care as well. I provide gender-affirming treatments and hormone therapy as well as general wellness visits and sick visits.
I live here with my cats. I moved here with just one, who has since crossed the rainbow bridge, but I currently have six of them because the homeless ones keep finding me somehow and I have a soft heart. Reading is a favorite hobby when I have the time, fiction of almost any genre and nonfiction on a variety of subjects. I’m also a computer gamer, although much less hardcore than in my younger days. My favorite sport is hockey and I am (sadly) a Buffalo Sabres fan.
I am not an outdoorsy person, I don’t hunt or fish, so I’m as confused as everyone else about why I chose to come here of all places. For the most part I am enjoying it here. The snow is nothing new, having lived near Buffalo most of my life, but the cold and wind can stop any time now.
Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about?
My main area of interest is in LGBTQ+ rights issues, but I also feel strongly about pro-choice issues and social justice.
Why do you advocate for transgender issues during the South Dakota legislative session?
As a transgender person myself, I feel it is important to be involved in the fights that concern us, for a few different reasons. Obviously, everyone should have an interest in standing up for their own rights, and that becomes even more critical when you are a member of a group as small as the transgender community. When there are fewer shoulders to carry the load, each person’s involvement becomes that much more valuable. I also feel that it is important for transgender people to be involved heavily in the issues around their own community, in helping to create the narratives and the legislation with a first-person perspective.
I also believe it is important for transgender people to be visible in these issues, to put a human face and voice out there for people to see. It is easy to believe that we are some “other” when a person doesn’t know anyone who is transgender and only hears the side of those who oppose us. I am an educated professional, I live here in rural South Dakota, and I think that helps people to realize that we are here, whether or not they know it, and that we are just people who want to be regarded as equal to everyone else.
What is your favorite way to get involved in your community?
I am involved with two different groups to support transgender and LGBTQ+ people in South Dakota – Watertown Love and the Transformation Project Advocacy Network. Through these groups, I get to meet people and make connections in my community and beyond. I enjoy this because it allows me the opportunity to do the two things that I think are my strongest contributions to my community – support and education.
Because of my profession, I am in a position not only to offer the support of experience and encouragement, but also I can actively help people get the help they need. I can provide medical care and expertise in the special care that is needed by trans folks, and I know how to help people navigate the health care system or find what I cannot provide.
My expertise also lends strength to my role as an educator. It means I have the degrees and training to back up my words, whether for testimony in the legislature, teaching for fellow providers, or general speaking to the public. I also just like to talk, especially when it comes to issues about which I am passionate, so this works out well for me!
Why do you think it’s important for people to be involved in their communities?
I think it’s important for the leadership to include voices from within a community, not just well-meaning others. No matter how much they want to do right, if they are not a part of the community there are bound to be mistakes or omissions. On the other side of that, if you are passionate about a cause even if you aren’t a part of that community, you should spend time in that community to educate yourself on the issues, needs, and wants of that community.
It’s also important to make your voice heard in your community. We encourage people to vote so that they are having a say in what goes on in the world around them, and it’s the same with involvement. If you aren’t involved, making sure your opinion is heard, then you don’t get to be surprised when no one knows what it is that you want or need.
Do you consider yourself a changemaker? Why?
I don’t know if I think I am a changemaker yet, but I would certainly like to be one. There are people in my life who I look up to and admire greatly for their ability to change the world, and it would be an honor to join them. I suppose I have taken some small steps toward that, and I have helped to make some small changes, but I am hopeful that someday those small changes will add up to something bigger, something that really lets me feel that I have left a mark on the world for the better.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?
Don’t be afraid to get out and get involved. Will there be people who disapprove of what you do or say? Most likely, but there will also be people who will support you, and sometimes you would never have guessed that those are the people who would do so. Don’t worry if your start seems small – anything you feel passionate about is worth doing, in any capacity. You never know when you might be a catalyst for more people to get involved and for bigger things to happen.
Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you and why?
I find the 14th Amendment to be critical and fascinating for the number of important issues that it addresses. Citizenship being guaranteed for not only Black people but also for Native Americans and all children born in the United States is crucial to the fight for equal rights. The amendment also essentially eliminated the “three-fifths clause” by reapportioning representatives based on population, now counting voting minorities in the population numbers. The privileges and immunities clause lays out the legal dynamics between the states and the federal government. “Due process of law” is a phrase we have all heard (if not said) at least once in our life, but prior to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment there was no such right or expectation.
Section three of the 14th Amendment has recently come up as well, although it was perhaps not evaluated as satisfactorily as one might hope. This section removes eligibility for public office or judiciary standing if found to have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion … or given aid or comfort to the enemies [of the United States].”
Last but certainly not least, the equal protection clause might be the most important part. “Nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law” (emphasis mine). Where would we be if our laws applied to some citizens but not others, or applied more in some cases but less in other circumstances. So many foundational court decisions have been based in the equal protection clause that it would be hard to imagine where we would be if it weren’t written. There can be no fairness of law without equal protections being guaranteed, and isn’t that supposed to be the foundation of America?
Honorable mention to the 21st Amendment for showing us that we can admit that a mistake was made, and take the necessary steps to rectify that.
What issues do you think are most important for South Dakotans to pay attention to?
It is certainly important to pay attention to the issues that affect most – or all – of us, and in South Dakota that is things like agricultural issues, budgetary issues, state laws and voter referendums. Those are pretty boring, but important to at least have a basic knowledge about them so that when it comes time to cast your vote or choose your representatives, you have the ability to vote in line with your values or choose someone whose beliefs line up with your own when they have to speak for you.
Beyond those basics, though, pay attention to the issues you are passionate about. Follow the issues, learn everything you can about them, and get involved. The most effective voices are the passionate ones, so once you are confident in your understanding of the issues, get out there and advocate!