This post is part of a series featuring the incredible group of Montanans who have stepped forward to challenge the constitutionality of I-183. To read more about the ACLU of Montana’s lawsuit, click here.
Elliott Hobaugh hadn’t ever visited Montana before he arrived at the University of Montana for his freshman year. This 19-year-old, originally from Chicago, made the leap with a curiosity that drives so many after graduation, to start fresh in a new town. Elliott specifically wanted to leave the big city and get to know rural America.
Missoula and UM have become a second home for Elliott, who loves waking up to mountains outside his window. Elliott is studying Psychology and Women and Gender and Sexuality Studies and is pursuing a minor in nonprofit administration, with a goal of one day opening up LGBT centers in rural parts of the country. He enjoys writing, photography, and theater.
In Chicago, Elliott was a member of the Center on Halsted, which is one of the biggest LGBT community centers in the country. Over 1,000 people walk through its doors every day. The center provided free counseling, resources, and after-school events. In Chicago, Elliott joined the About Face theatre group for LGBT youth ages 13-24.
Reflecting back on the Center, Elliott remarks that “It was a privilege for me to have that. It was definitely a big change to not have that support net at UM.” But in only two short years, Elliott has made himself into a resource for his fellow LGBT students. Besides working in the Student Involvement Network, which manages event planning on campus, Elliott volunteers with UM allies, which leads LGBT ally training, and he runs Queer Kitchen Table, organizing weekly meetings for LGBT students. He doesn’t have much free time, but when he does, Elliott uses it to find another opportunity to volunteer.
In his first year at UM, Elliott didn’t find a resource or person who could answer housing questions or help him change his Griz card and he now prioritizes giving back what he has learned to incoming students. He’s become a resource to talk to and a mentor for other LGBT students on campus.
“In being a plaintiff, I feel that if this was happening in Chicago, which is a more liberal place than Montana, I wouldn’t be as anxious.” After seeing an LGBT friend get beaten up in Missoula by bouncers with no recourse or human rights protections, the fact that Montana has never extended civil rights protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation is a new reality.
“Knowing that I live in a place where hate crimes and people in the LGBT community getting beat up isn’t seen on the same level as someone that is straight and cis, I was definitely concerned because if something did happen, there would probably be no justice for me.” After coming from Chicago, and being able to live more open and freely than most parts of Montana, Elliott feels that by serving as a plaintiff, he can make things better for future generations.
I-183 pointedly targets trans youth like Elliott. His advice? “Educate yourself. You know, Google is a great resource. Use it to learn more about what trans means, what does nonbinary mean? What are they them pronouns? What does this all mean? A great tool is just to go educate yourself online…. A lot of fear comes from not knowing, too. I think that once you educate yourself and you see that these people are just like me, and they’re not that different, you can learn a lot. A lot of ignorance comes from not knowing things.”
Elliott is 19 years old. (Pronouns: he, his)