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.
Shawn is a fourth-generation Montanan who grew up in Great Falls and moved to Helena to attend Carroll College. At Carroll, he spent a year as the director of the pep band and studied chemistry. Shawn now works as a community organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network.
An avid outdoorsman, Shawn spends the warmer seasons snorkeling, angling, backpacking, and camping with his partner, Kasandra, and cat, Copernicus. In the wintertime, he embraces the cold and the ice with a fishing pole in hand.
Besides his love for the outdoors, Shawn also admires Montana for the quality of its people. He described, “One of the things that I really like about Montana is this interaction that we have if you need something. For example, I hit a deer not too long ago. And from the time I hit the deer, until the time the vehicle was towed and we were on our way again, we were never left alone. It was right outside of Harlowton and several people stopped, made sure we were okay, and stayed with us until the highway patrol arrived. That’s one of the things that I really like about Montana, it’s the people. We look out for each other. And I think that’s really important.”
This appreciation of community is present in each aspect of Shawn. As a community organizer and activist, Shawn has worked on nondiscrimination legislation at the state and municipal levels. If someone needs to testify on behalf of anyone’s rights and humanity, Shawn will be there. He also facilitates transgender support groups in two different cities and serves on the Pride Foundation’s Montana Leadership Action Team and the Rural Transgender Wellness Project advisory board. In 2015, Shawn was named one of Montana’s “25 Under 25” in recognition of his community contributions as a young leader.
There are many reasons why Shawn chose to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit against I-183. He explained, “I feel like I’m in a really good spot to be able to stand up for members of the trans community that can’t. My job supports me. My partner supports me. And I really want to give back to the community.”
Shawn continued, “I think part of why I feel it’s so important to be involved, is that we had a wave of suicides in the state of Montana in the trans community. And one of those people who committed suicide was a member of my support group and that hit me very hard because they were only 18. And it happened about the same time as House Bill 2 passed in North Carolina and so, I just really witnessed first-hand the impact that legislation has on people’s lives, and in our community. And I hold the community very close.”
In choosing to be a plaintiff, Shawn puts his very humanity on the line, and that’s where he thinks people should begin in addressing I-183. Shawn’s advice: “I think that, first and foremost, when we are talking about trans people, you don’t have to understand what it means to be trans to be able to respect someone. You don’t have to understand my history or where I came from or why I am the person that I am to agree that I pay taxes, I’m involved in the community, I volunteer, I go to church. And I exist as a person. And on top of that, there’s more to me than just a trans person. For example, I really like nerdy jokes. I like to go outdoors. I like to snowboard. And I like to be involved in the community in different says. So I think that’s really important.”
Shawn is 26 years old. (Preferred pronouns: he, him)