Montana Legislature Punishes Trans Lawmaker for Telling It Like It Is
On Wednesday, after closing the House Chamber gallery to the public, Montana’s House Republicans voted to ban State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who is trans, from entering the chamber floor, anteroom, and gallery for the rest of this session. Zephyr, a Democrat, will still be able to vote remotely on legislation.
Zephyr’s transgression was holding up her microphone on Monday to amplify the chants of protesters supporting her in the chamber’s gallery. Last Tuesday, Zephyr said in a floor speech that those who approved a proposed bill prohibiting gender-affirming care for individuals under the age of 18 would have “blood on [their] hands,” referring to elevated rates of suicide and mental health struggles among transgender individuals without access to affirming care. Since then, Zephyr had been prevented from speaking.
The House’s Republican leadership retaliated by blackballing her from participating in subsequent floor discussions of legislation affecting transgender individuals. After Zephyr showed her support for protesters, Republicans issued a letter indicating they would vote to formally prevent her from entering the chamber and barred the public from witnessing the vote. Republican Montana House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, who sponsored the resolution, claimed that Zephyr had “encouraged the continuation of the disruption of this body, placing legislators, staff and even our pages at the risk of harm.”
On Wednesday, Zephyr tweeted: “As I left the House chambers, I pressed my light to speak — a reminder that this legislature is removing 11,000 Montanans from discussion on every bill going forward,” she said. “I will always stand on behalf of my constituents, my community, and democracy itself.”
In a statement following her removal, Zephyr called the vote a “a disturbing affront to democracy.”
“Though the Republican supermajority has voted to strip me of my ability to partake in debate, I remain steadfast in my commitment to my community,” she wrote, “I will continue to make the difficult moral choices necessary to stand up for the people who entrusted me with their representation. My gratitude for those who spoke out on these principles is boundless, and I pledge to always stand up for them, and to tirelessly advocate for democracy in the state of Montana.”
My statement on the Montana GOP's undemocratic decision to ban me from debate on the House floor:— Rep. Zooey Zephyr (@ZoAndBehold) April 26, 2023
Today I stood unwaveringly in defense of my constituents, my community, and democracy itself. And I pledge to always do so. pic.twitter.com/mCuN9ah0JL
On Monday, Zephyr explained her decision to raise her mic to supporters in the gallery. “When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being disabled, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic right to be heard — and some were arrested in the process. I stood by them in solidarity and will continue to do so,” she wrote in a statement.
In a speech preceding the vote to censure her, Zephyr stood by her previous statements on the bill. “I have had friends who have taken their lives because of these bills … When I rose up and said, ‘there is blood on your hands,’ I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we as legislators take in this body,” she said, “when the speaker asks to me apologize on behalf of decorum, what he’s really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed. He is asking me to be complicit in this legislature’s eradication of our community, and I refuse to do so.”
The actions by Montana Republicans come weeks after the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two of three lawmakers who had participated in a protest supporting gun control legislation in the aftermath of a Nashville school shooting.
Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, both young Black Democrats serving in the Republican-controlled body, were quickly reinstated through votes from their respective city councils.
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