Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr

Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr was barred from the state House floor on April 26, 2023, just over a week after speaking out against a bill to ban gender-affirming healthcare.

(Photo: Shaylee Ragar/Montana Public Radio)

Montana GOP Bars Trans Lawmaker From House Floor Over Protest

"If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then all you are doing is using decorum as a tool for oppression," said Rep. Zooey Zephyr.

Montana's first transgender lawmaker, state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, was barred from entering the House floor on Wednesday afternoon as the Republican majority voted in favor of formally disciplining her over remarks she made last week about a ban on gender-affirming healthcare.

Under the motion, Zephyr (D-100) will be permitted only to cast votes remotely for the duration of the legislative session, which ends May 6.

The House voted 68-32 along party lines to bar Zephyr from the House floor just over a week after she told Republicans that they would have "blood on their hands" if they supported a ban on gender-affirming care for youths.

GOP leaders claimed the motion to formally punish Zephyr was in response to a protest by her supporters in the House gallery on Monday, which they accused her of encouraging. During the protest, Zephyr stood on the House floor and held up a nonfunctioning microphone as the protesters, seven of whom were arrested, were led out of the gallery.

Since Zephyr's comments last Tuesday, she has not been recognized by House Speaker Matt Regier (R-4), who has demanded Zephyr apologize.

On Wednesday, she spoke on the House floor for the first time since being silenced by the GOP.

"We have seen bills targeting our art forms, our books, our history, and our healthcare," Zephyr said of the transgender and nonbinary community. "And I rose up in defense of my community [last Tuesday], speaking to harms that these bills bring."

She condemned the Republicans for accusing her of lacking "decorum" during Monday's protest and last week's debate.

"If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then all you are doing is using decorum as a tool for oppression," she said.

Zephyr also noted that in accusing the Republicans of having "blood on their hands," she was referring to studies showing that transgender youths are significantly less likely to experience depression or suicidal ideation if they receive gender-affirming care, which is strongly supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and other groups representing health experts.

The vote to bar Zephyr, who represents 11,000 constituents, from the House floor is "blatantly anti-democratic," said Alejandra Caraballo of the Harvard Law Cyberlaw Clinic.

Montana House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D-83) noted that "there is an opportunity cost to choosing this path" as the body debated the motion.

"We don't have a state budget, we don't have a plan for housing, we don't have a plan for childcare," Abbott said. "And today we're on this floor, debating this motion."

"I'm not sure what comes next here," said Zephyr, "but I will do what I have always done. I will rise in support of my community. I will take the hard and moral choice to stand up for the people who elected me to do so. And I am grateful for those who stood up in defense of democracy."

As the Montana House voted to bar Zephyr from the floor, Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt (D-8) said she had been informed that she was under investigation for a conflict of interest due to her vote against a bill to limit gender-affirming care. Hunt has a transgender child.

"They are going full in on fascism by targeting any state representatives that stand up for trans people," said Caraballo. "It's not enough to pass these hurtful laws, they also have to silence and make examples of anyone who stands up to them."

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