The Republican-controlled Montana House of Representatives is threatening to expel transgender state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) after she spoke out against anti-transgender legislation. Zephyr has already been banned from speaking on the state house floor.
“I have been informed that during tomorrow’s floor session there will be a motion to either censure or expel me,” Zephyr tweeted. “I’ve also been told I’ll get a chance to speak. I will do as I have always done—rise on behalf of my constituents, in defense of my community, & for democracy itself.”
She posted a copy of a letter she received that was signed by Montana House Speaker Matt Regier (R) that said a motion will be made today “pursuant to the House of Representatives’ authority under Article V, section 10(1), of the Montana constitution” and that it would be about whether Zephyr “violated the rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum of the House of Representatives.” That section of the state constitution gives the state house the power to “expel or punish a member for good cause” and requires a two-thirds majority vote of house members on such a measure.
Last week, the chamber debated S.B. 99, which would deny gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth and force those undergoing treatment to leave the state or detransition. The bill had already passed both the Montana State Senate and House when Zephyr took to the floor with her impassioned speech, as amendments proposed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte were being debated.
In a letter accompanying the amendments, Gianforte wrote of trans youth and adults, “I understand their struggles are real, and my heart goes out to them. I firmly believe that, as with all of God’s children, Montanans who struggle with their gender identity deserve love, compassion, and respect.”
The amendments, however, only strengthen the prohibitions denying medically-necessary treatment for trans minors.
Zephyr wasn’t having it, and she referenced the session’s opening prayer.
“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.”
The conservative Montana Freedom Caucus demanded that she be censured for “using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate,” misgendering her in their statement.
“It is disheartening that the Montana Freedom Caucus would stoop so low as to misgender me in their letter, further demonstrating their disregard for the dignity and humanity of transgender individuals,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
By the end of the week, Regier was refusing to let Zephyr speak on the state house floor, even on matters unrelated to LGBTQ+ issues.
“It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity,” he said. “And any representative that I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized.”
On Monday, several supporters of Zephyr protested at the state house, chanting, “Let her speak!” and “Whose House? Our House!” Seven protestors were arrested, and Republican leaders called the protest a “riot” and an “insurrection,” a reference to the January 6 Insurrection where five people died as supporters of Donald Trump took over the Capitol building in order to overturn the results of the 2020 election while they chanted for the death of Mike Pence.
“Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff. Their actions did not represent Montana values,” Regier, Speaker pro tempore Rhonda Knudsen (R), and Majority Leader Sue Vinton (R) said in a joint statement.
Zephyr herself stood with the protestors as they were booked at the county jail instead of sitting in silence at the state house.
“I raised my mic and stood in solidarity with them,” Zephyr said later. “I am devoted to those who rise in defense of democracy.”
Outside the state house chamber, Zephyr reiterated her commitment to speak out.
“When someone stands up and calls out their bills for the harm they cause, for the deaths they cause, they want silence. And we will not be complicit in our eradication.”