'Let Her Speak!': 7 Arrested in Protest Over Montana GOP's Silencing of Trans Lawmaker

Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-100) holds up a microphone on the state House floor on April 24, 2023 as supporters protest over the Republican leadership's refusal to allow her to take part in debates over legislation.

(Photo: screenshot/Montana Public Affairs Network)

'Let Her Speak!': 7 Arrested in Protest Over Montana GOP's Silencing of Trans Lawmaker

"Today we saw Montanans show up and engage in the democratic process, and some of those Montanans were arrested," said one state House Democrat.

Chants of "Let her speak!" rang out in the Montana House on Monday afternoon as constituents and supporters of state Rep. Zooey Zephyr demanded that the Republican Party end its silencing of the transgender lawmaker over an impassioned defense of nonbinary and transgender children she gave last week.

For the third day in a row, state House Speaker Matt Regier (R-4) refused to let Zephyr (D-100) participate in a debate on legislation, this time regarding whether students should be permitted to use the names and pronouns of their choosing at school without parental consent.

After House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D-83) called on Regier to allow Zephyr to speak about the bill, 63 members voted against the motion, sparking outrage from the advocates who had assembled in the gallery above the House floor after making a nearly two-hour trip from Missoula to support the first-term lawmaker.

As the Democrats supporters demanded that the leadership "let her speak," leaders cut the sound and video feed to the floor while Zephyr held up a nonfunctional microphone, symbolizing the Republicans' decision to silence her since she accused them of having "blood on their hands" last week for supporting a ban on gender-affirming healthcare last week. The legislation, which Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he will sign, is one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills making its way through state legislatures.

Zephyr's comments were made last Tuesday and were cited later that day as the Montana Freedom Caucus' reason for demanding the House censure the Democrat, in a statement in which the group also misgendered Zephyr.

Regier has said he is refusing to recognize Zephyr on the House floor until she apologizes for her remarks in order "to protect the dignity and integrity" of the chamber.

Zephyr has stood by her comments, which referred to the fact that gender-affirming medical care has been linked to sharply reduced rates of suicidal ideation and depression among transgender youths.

"I was sent here to speak on behalf of my constituents and to speak on behalf of my community. It's the promise I made when I got elected and it's a promise that I will continue to keep every single day," Zephyr told reporters before entering the chamber on Monday.

Seven protesters were arrested after being escorted from the House gallery, including some by force.

The Helena Independent Record filmed the arrests, in which police officers were seen pushing the protesters and telling them to "move back" and "stop resisting."

The Montana Freedom Caucus called the demonstration an "insurrection" and again urged "disciplinary action" against Zephyr for inciting violence at the House. Zephyr has not been censured thus far.

Republicans have indicated that they will not back down from their demand that Zephyr apologize.

The standoff comes a month after two Democratic state lawmakers were expelled from the Tennessee state House—and later reinstated by local councils—for taking part in a protest demanding gun control following a school shooting in Nashville.

Abbott toldThe Washington Post that the protest on Monday was "an incredible statement in support of the trans, nonbinary, and Two Spirit community—and against the Republican agenda that would strip our neighbors of their basic rights, dignity, and humanity."

"Today we saw Montanans show up and engage in the democratic process, and some of those Montanans were arrested," she said.

Zephyr left the House floor after her supporters were arrested "to show support for those who were arrested defending democracy," she said on social media.

The seven protesters were booked and released from a county detention center.

The House is scheduled to convene again Tuesday afternoon.

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