Montana’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted Wednesday to ban the state’s first transgender legislator Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) in retaliation for supporting protestors who shared her opposition to transphobic legislation.
State house Republicans voted to ban Zephyr in a 68-32 party-line vote. The ban forbids her from entering the state house chamber, gallery, or anteroom until the session ends on May 6. Zephyr will still be allowed to vote on legislation remotely, Forbes reported.
Before the vote, Zephyr was given five minutes to address the chamber. She accused state Republicans of using a “tool of oppression” to silence her. She also said banning her from the chamber would be another “nail in the coffin of democracy,” adding, “You cannot kill democracy that easily,” CNN reported.
In a statement issued after the vote, Zephyr said the ban “effectively strip[ped] me of the ability to represent my 11,000 constituents in debate.”
“In recent months, the legislature has launched a relentless assault on the LGBTQ+ community, introducing bills that aim to undermine our art forms, our literature, our history, and our healthcare,” her statement said. “I will continue to make the difficult moral choices necessary to stand up for the people who entrusted me with their representation… and to tirelessly advocate for democracy in the state of Montana.”
The chamber’s Republicans barred Zephyr from speaking on the state house floor last week after she accused Republicans of having “blood on your hands” for supporting a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors.
“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,” she said. “I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
After her comment, the conservative Montana Freedom Caucus demanded that she be censured for “using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate” — the caucus also misgendered her in its statement. Speaker Matt Regier (R) ultimately said he decided to bar Zephyr from speaking “to protect the dignity and integrity” of the chamber.
On Monday, protesters in the state house chamber opposed Regier’s refusal to recognize Zephyr on the floor. The protesters chanted, “Let her speak!” while Zephyr raised a microphone towards them to amplify their voices. Police arrested seven protesters, and Zephyr stood nearby as they were booked at the county jail.
“I raised my mic and stood in solidarity with them,” Zephyr said later. “I am devoted to those who rise in defense of democracy.”
After the protest, top Republican state house members accused Zephyr of violating “the rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum” of the chamber and its members. Some even called the temporary, non-violent incident a “riot” and an “insurrection.”
Zephyr’s ban has been compared to the recent expulsion of two Black Tenessee state lawmakers — state Rep. Justin Jones (D) and state Rep. Justin Pearson (D), both aged 28 — for their protest in support of gun safety legislation.
Montana legislators have introduced eight anti-LGBTQ+ bills this session. Three have been defeated. The remaining bills would ban minors from seeing drag shows and accessing gender-affirming medical care; block trans kids from accessing bathrooms, sports teams, and other school accommodations; forcibly out trans kids to their parents; and would require trans people to be legally recognized as the sex they were assigned at birth, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.