Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-100)

Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-100) sits in the state House during a legislative session on March 1, 2023.

(Photo: Rep. Zooey Zephyr/@zoandbehold/Twitter)

Montana's Sole Transgender Lawmaker Silenced for Saying GOP Has 'Blood on Its Hands'

"When there are bills targeting the LGBTQ community, I stand up to defend my community," said state Rep. Zooey Zephyr. "And I choose my words with clarity and precision and I spoke to the real harms that these bills bring."

Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr said ahead of a scheduled legislative session in the state House on Friday that she is "ready to speak" on behalf her constituents, but Republican leaders have given no indication that they'll allow her to do so after silencing her this week in retaliation for comments she made about transgender rights.

State House Speaker Matt Regier (R-4) has refused to acknowledge Zephyr (D-100), the state's only transgender lawmaker, on Thursday when she tried to speak during a debate about a bill that would include binary definitions of "male" and "female" in the state code, and other legislation unrelated to the rights of transgender and nonbinary people.

The Republicans' refusal to allow Zephyr to speak on the House floor follows her comments made on Tuesday about a bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youths.

"If you are denying gender-affirming care and forcing a trans child to go through puberty, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed," said Zephyr. "If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands."

Soon after, the right-wing Montana Freedom Caucus wrote a letter to the Legislature—posted on Twitter along with a message that misgendered Zephyr—calling for the lawmaker to be censured for using "inappropriate and uncalled-for language" during the debate, unless she issued a formal apology.

Zephyr has refused to do so, saying in a statement that the Republicans' goal is not securing an apology, but "silence as they take away the rights of queer and trans Montanans."

"The Montana GOP has pushed over a dozen anti-trans bills this year—targeting our art forms, our stories, our healthcare, and our very existence," said Zephyr. "It is particularly troubling that the moment they were confronted with the impact their legislation has, they chose to silence the only trans woman elected to public office in Montana as opposed to doing the right thing and voting down this harmful legislation."

"My light is on and I am ready to speak," she added.

When he refused to acknowledge Zephyr on Thursday, Regier said he was doing so "to protect the dignity and integrity" of the legislative body.

All 32 Democratic House members rose in solidarity with Zephyr on Thursday, and groups including the Montana American Indian Caucus and the Missoula County Democrats have expressed support for her.

House Republicans, said the Missoula County Democrats, are "silencing not only the voice of Rep. Zephyr, but also the voices of roughly 11,000 Montanans in House District 100."

Bolstering her statement that Republicans have "blood on their hands," Zephyr on Tuesday shared a letter state lawmakers received last month from an emergency physician who treated a transgender teenager who said the GOP's opposition to gender-affirming healthcare such as puberty blockers, hormonal treatment, and surgery had contributed to their suicidal ideation.

"Every yes vote on a discriminatory bill targeting transgender Montanans contributed to this child being driven to the point of wanting to kill themselves," the doctor wrote.

As Zephyr noted in her remarks on Tuesday, access to gender-affirming treatment for youths suffering from gender dysphoria is strongly supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and other medical organizations—and cutting access to such treatment is linked to far higher rates of suicide and depression among transgender and nonbinary teens.

"When there are bills targeting the LGBTQ community, I stand up to defend my community," Zephyr told the Associated Press Friday. "And I choose my words with clarity and precision and I spoke to the real harms that these bills bring."

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