Montana Republicans Banish the State’s Only Trans Lawmaker

Photo: Amy Beth Hanson/AP

Montana Republicans on Wednesday voted to bar Representative Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender woman ever elected to the state’s legislature, from coming into and speaking in the House chamber for the remainder of the legislative session. According to the motion, she’ll only be allowed to vote remotely.

The standoff between Zephyr, a freshman lawmaker, and her GOP colleagues began last week after she spoke against a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr said at the time. Governor Greg Gianforte is expected to sign the measure — which bans hormonal and surgical care as well as prevents public funds from being used for gender-affirming care — into law soon. Montana lawmakers are also considering measures to define sex as a binary in the state code and block students from changing their names and pronouns at school, legislation that is part of a larger trend of targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

For days, Zephyr’s Republican colleagues barred her from speaking unless she apologized for her remarks. Protesters showed up to the House gallery on Monday to support her, chanting “Let her speak!” and disrupting the session. Seven people were arrested.

Republicans, who demanded Zephyr be censured over her remarks, have repeatedly misgendered her in letters and on social media. She received a letter on Tuesday saying she faces disciplinary action over her conduct during the demonstration the previous day, when she had hoisted her microphone toward the protesters. The Montana Freedom Caucus, which consists of right-wing senators and representatives in the state, claimed she encouraged “an insurrection.”

Zephyr was defiant in a speech during debate of the motion to censure her. “I’m not sure what comes next here, but what I will say is I will do what I have always done: I will rise in support of my community. I will take the hard and moral choice and stand up in defense of the people who elected me to do so and the people in our communities,” she said. “And I will say I’m grateful for those who stood up in defense of democracy on Monday.”

The 68-32 vote to discipline Zephyr fell along party lines and echoed the expulsion earlier this month of Tennessee Democratic state representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, who participated in a gun-control protest following a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. (Jones and Pearson were both reinstated to their seats and have since returned to the state House.)

“If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable,” Zephyr said in her speech, “all you are doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression.”

Montana Republicans Banish Their Only Trans Colleague