Exiled Trans Lawmaker Zooey Zephyr Sues Montana’s GOP Leadership
Transgender Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr is fighting back after Republicans voted to bar her from the House floor as punishment for speaking out against a bill that would ban gender affirming care for minors. On Monday, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union representing Zephyr filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Matt Regier and state House Sergeant-at-Arms Bradley Murfitt, arguing that Zephyr’s exile violated her First Amendment rights and those of her constituents.
On Wednesday, the legislature voted to bar Zephyr from entering the chamber floor, anteroom, and gallery for the rest of this session. Her key card granting her access to the state Capitol’s entrances, meeting and hearing rooms, and even bathrooms was deactivated. While Zephyr will still be able to vote remotely on legislation, she was relegated to working on a bench in the Capitol hallway to maintain a proximity to official proceedings.
“House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself,” Zephyr said in a statement released through the ACLU. “By doing so, they’ve denied me my own rights under the Constitution and, more importantly, the rights of my constituents to just representation in their own government. The Montana State House is the people’s House, not Speaker Regier’s, and I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard.”.
“By depriving Representative Zephyr of her right to freely engage with the legislative process, Defendants have also deprived her 11,000 constituents of the right to full representation in their government,” the lawsuit reads, further arguing that Zephyr’s continued exclusion from debate is “an unconstitutional violation of Rep. Zephyr’s right to free speech.”
Republicans moved against Zephyr after she declared in an April floor speech that those who supported a proposed bill that would severely restrict access to gender-affirming care for transgender individuals in the state would have “blood on [their] hands.” Zephyr was referring to elevated rates of suicide and mental health struggles among transgender individuals without access to affirming care.
For days after her comment, Zephyr was blacklisted from speaking during debate, and at one point had her microphone turned off. When protesters began flooding the chamber’s gallery on her behalf, the representative lifted her microphone in solidarity with her supporters. Republicans claimed the move “encouraged the continuation of the disruption of this body, placing legislators, staff and even our pages at the risk of harm.”
Despite the retaliation from the GOP, Zephyr has no plans to back down. “I have had friends who have taken their lives because of these bills,” she said in a floor speech shortly before the vote for her removal. “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.”
“When the speaker asks me to 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,” she continued. “He is asking me to be complicit in this legislature’s eradication of our community, and I refuse to do so.”
The action against Zephyr echoes a disturbing trend among Republican-controlled legislatures. In April, the Tennessee House of Representatives held a vote to expel three Democratic representatives who had engaged in a protest calling for gun control on the House floor in the aftermath of a Nashville school shooting. Two of the lawmakers, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are both Black, were briefly removed from office before being reinstated by their respective city councils.
We warned in Tennessee that “it would set a precedent,” Jones said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday. “If they came for one of us, they would come for others.”
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