Zooey Zephyr, Montana trans lawmaker, banned from state House by GOP

GOP lawmakers in the Montana House of Representatives on Wednesday banned the state’s only transgender legislator from speaking on the chamber floor for the remainder of the legislative session after she called out her GOP colleagues last week during a debate on access to gender-affirming care.

The stunning vote (with all 68 Republicans voting “Aye”)  came after Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman, told her Republican colleagues on April 18 that “If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”

The bill, which would ban gender-affirming health care for teens, was passed by the Republican majority.

Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of ultra-conservative legislators, released a letter that deliberately misgendered Zooey Zephyr and called her comments “hateful rhetoric.”

Republican leadership blocked Zephyr from speaking in the state House on April 21.

House Speaker Matt Reiger demanded Zephyr apologize for the comments before he would restore her speaking privileges.

Zephyr has said she has no reason to apologize.

Every major medical association agrees that access to gender-affirming care reduces instances of suicide for young, gender-diverse people who have alarmingly high rates of suicidal ideation.

On Monday, Zephyr’s supporters chanted in the gallery to “let her speak.” Zephyr held up her microphone to amplify their voices.

Police in riot gear arrested several protesters.

Republican majority leader Rep. Sue Vinton introduced the motion to ban Zephyr and force her to work remotely, claiming she violated rules of decorum on Monday by not shutting down her supporters.

“I have fielded calls from families in Montana, including one family whose trans teenager attempted to take her life while watching a hearing on one of the anti-trans bills,” Zephyr said before the vote.

“In that hearing, our caucus pleaded with the Republican chair of the judiciary committee to not allow certain testimony to keep decorum. And we were told a lot of people have a lot of opinions on these things,” she said.

“So 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.”

Zephyr added: “When the speaker asks me to apologize what he is on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed, he’s asking me to be complicit in this legislature’s eradication of our community and I refuse to do so and I will always refuse to do so.”

Wednesday’s vote was 68 to 32 along party lines.

A two-thirds vote was required to pass the motion.

“I would also say that if you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then in the name of all you are doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression,” she noted.

LGBTQ+ advocacy groups were sharply critical of the Montana GOP move.

“The silencing and censure against Rep. Zooey Zephyr for speaking up in support of transgender Montanans is an attack on our nation’s democratic ideals and free speech values,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “It’s an assault on democracy to suppress the already marginalized and under-represented voices of LGBTQ people and people of color, and the lawmakers who were duly elected to represent them.”

Recently, protesters halted Tennessee’s state legislature after a mass shooting at a Nashville school and called for gun control. The Republican-led House later expelled two Black Democratic members for their involvement in the protest, claiming they violated decorum rules by participating in the event.

A two-thirds vote of the body was required to pass the motion.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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