On September 4, 2023, Akilah Maya Deernose assumed the role of Executive Director as the ACLU of Montana. She moved into this role after serving as Senior Staff Attorney, where she helped fight for the civil rights and liberties of Montanans in state and federal courts since January 2021.

As Senior Staff Attorney, her cases included Marquez v. State of Montana, where she served as lead counsel challenging Montana’s discriminatory law making it near-impossible for transgender Montanans to amend their birth certificates, and van Garderen v. State of Montana, where she challenged a Montana statute denying medically necessary gender affirming care to transgender youth. She has also been a part of legal teams focused on litigation to advance the rights of Indigenous people and tribes, voting rights, First Amendment rights, and educational equity, among other ACLU priorities. Deernose also has worked closely with the ACLU of Montana’s policy and advocacy team, analyzing legislation, lobbying, and providing testimony on important issues facing Montanans at the State Capitol in Helena.

Akilah had dedicated her career after Willamette to "ensuring meaningful access to opportunity, justice, and equal rights under the law for all." This dedication grows out of her own access to, and experience at, Willamette. Growing up in a single parent household, with a disabled brother and a learning disabled sister, also suffering from mental illness, who was funneled out of mainstream schools and into the criminal justice system, she saw firsthand the many barriers to access, equity, and justice faced by a large portion of the population.

Her emphasis on law, politics, history and gender studies while at Willamette shaped her legal advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and now, she is the first LGBTQ2S individual and first Black woman to serve as executive director at the ACLU of Montana in its 51-year history, as part of her Willamette-based commitment to building inclusive and socially just communities.


Akilah Deernose BA'04
Willamette University

Alumni and Parent Engagement

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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