Roberta “Bobbie” Zenker is a 59-year old Helena resident who works as an attorney for Disability Rights Montana. She grew up in Ohio and graduated from University of Dayton in 1980 with a degree in Photography and Fine Arts and minors in Religious Studies and English.
Thirty-seven years ago, Bobbie moved to Montana as a Jesuit Volunteer at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. She says, “I’ve spent more time in Montana than anywhere else on the planet, so it truly is home. It gets into your blood and soul. I don’t feel like a non-local, but I suppose technically I am.”
While in Ashland, Bobbie made many friends amongst the Northern Cheyenne and Crow with whom she remains friends today. Bobbie met and married her first spouse in Ashland and became the proud parent of two children, Meghan and Shane. Bobbie continued working at St. Labre for nine years and served as the Director of St. Labre Children’s Home until she left Ashland in the fall of 1989 to attend law school.
From 1992 through September, 2006, Bobbie served as a deputy Madison County Attorney and the Madison County Attorney. She also met and married her second spouse, Peggy Probasco, with whom she remains close friends. Bobbie then worked as an Appellate Defender for the State Office of Public Defender for three years and has spent the last eight years with Disability Rights Montana seeking to enforce the civil, legal and human rights of people who experience disability.
Service is integral to Bobbie’s life. “I’ve got a pretty firm belief that when somebody asks me to help that if I can, I should and some might even argue, I must. And service to others is a very important part of my life. I think it was the Dalai Lama who says that being of service to others is the purpose of life. That’s not always a popular sentiment in our culture today. Most people would say the purpose of my life is to be happy. So it’s important to shift that focus from being self-centered to being other-centered. Any time I have the opportunity to be of service to other people, and I can be, then I should be.”
In sum, Bobbie has been continuously working for thirty-seven years in public service for the people of Montana. And that commitment to service is what convinced Bobbie to become a plaintiff in the fight against I-183.
Besides being able and willing to serve as a face of those who would most be harmed by I-183, Bobbie explains, “I-183 challenges my integrity as a human being and makes certain assumptions about trans people that are offensive and not true. And on a much more pragmatic level, if I were compelled to use a men’s room in all public places, I would be putting myself at risk daily. Certainly for harassment, scowls, mean and untoward things and comments that someone might make—if not all-out violence. There are many cases across the country, where trans women are assaulted in restrooms. There was a case several years ago in Butte. And it becomes a matter of safety for me.”
“And on a more philosophical level, the suggestion is there is not a place in our society, in our culture, for trans people and you want to close the door to trans people. You don’t want them in public places. And what better way to do that than to say you cannot use a public restroom. So I was asked, I was invited to become a plaintiff. And I certainly believe in what we are doing, in terms of challenging an unjust piece of proposed legislation that is so demeaning and degrading and frankly, not necessary.”
Bobbie is 59 years old. (Pronouns: she/her.)