The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana today announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the anti-LGBTQ I-183. The ballot initiative seeks to prevent transgender and gender-nonconforming Montanans from using public facilities that correspond with their gender identity by restricting access to public facilities in public spaces, such as libraries, parks, and schools. I-183 would bar trans Montanans from full and equal participation in public life and nullify many of their constitutional rights.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, on behalf of seven transgender Montanans, two parents on behalf of their transgender daughter, and the City of Missoula. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the initiative unconstitutional and prevent the Secretary of State from placing it on the 2018 ballot.
“I-183 violates numerous constitutional rights, depriving transgender Montanans of equal protection under the law and burdening their fundamental rights to privacy, dignity, and due process,” explained Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director.
The harshest consequences of I-183 would be felt by transgender Montanans. Acton Siebel, a 38-year-old Missoula man and transgender Montanan, joined nine other Montanans from across the state in the lawsuit.
“I spent a good chunk of my life worrying and living in fear of how people would perceive me as being a trans person. Living in fear that I might be hurt, that I might be verbally or physically assaulted, or that I might be murdered. And now with I-183, the thought of someone trying to legislate my right to a public accommodation makes me want to fight even more. I shouldn’t have to fight for my rights; my rights are granted to me as an American citizen and as a resident of the state.”
Other plaintiffs include:
- Elliott Hobaugh, a 19-year-old man and University of Montana student who enjoys acting, writing, and photography.
- Ezerae Coates, a 28-year-old Butte woman and HIV early intervention specialist for the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department and Kiwanis volunteer.
- Kasandra Reddington, a 21-year-old Helena woman who plans to pursue a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience.
- Micah Hartung, a 60-year-old Belt man who is a retired pastor and Class C sports fan.
- Shawn Reagor, a 26-year-old Helena man who is a community organizer and avid fisherman.
- Roberta Zenker, a 60-year-old Helena woman who advocates for Montanans with disabilities and is an avid wildlife photographer.
- Two Montana parents on behalf of their trans daughter who chose to remain anonymous to protect their daughter's identity, security, and wellbeing.
- The City of Missoula.
Although I-183 specifically targets transgender Montanans, the entire state would feel the ramifications of legalizing discrimination in the Big Sky.
“I-183 is so vague and confusing that the Montanans and local governments required to enforce I-183 would have no idea how to comply with it,” explained Legal Director Alex Rate.
Rate continued, “I-183 adopts a regressive and rigid definition of sex that has been rejected by the medical community. Furthermore, if I-183 became law, local governments would be subject to frivolous lawsuits, yet I-183 does not provide sufficient clarity as to how they can avoid a violation.”
In a year where the state budget has left Montanans reeling from looming cuts to critical public services and programs, I-183 would endanger at least $250 million of annual Title IX federal funding in grants to the Montana University System that go towards financial aid, research, and programs. The nonpartisan Office of Budget and Planning characterizes I-183’s fiscal impacts as “an unfunded mandate on local governments.” The Budget Office estimates that the long-term impacts of the initiative could exceed $1 billion per year.
I-183 would further endanger Montana’s economic future with the loss of potential business investment. After passing similar legislation, Indianapolis lost more than $60 million in revenue in less than a year, and North Carolina took a projected $3.76 billion hit to its economy.
Local impacts of I-183 go beyond economic consequences.
“The dollars and cents of this senseless initiative would be awfully tough on thriving communities like Missoula,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. "Not only would it affect our municipal operations, it would have a chilling effect on business development and tourism. Beyond that, this effort takes control away from local governments that long ago voted overwhelmingly to protect all of our citizens from discrimination through thoughtful community ordinances. And, finally, this initiative is mean-spirited and is in direct opposition to Missoula’s values.”
It is anticipated that a final ruling on I-183’s constitutionality will be rendered prior to the November 2018 election.
"The ACLU and our partners in the Free and Fair Montana coalition owe the transgender community a debt of gratitude,” said SK Rossi, Director of Advocacy and Policy. “Trans Montanans have led this work by providing shining examples of bravery and authenticity to look to when we seek to assist in the movement for trans lives."
Plaintiff biographies are available and the complaint and exhibits are located below.