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Constituents rallied for Rep. Zooey Zephyr after GOP banned her from the Montana House floor

Rep. Zooey Zephyr
Rep. Zooey Zephyr Photo: Provided by the LGBTQ Victory Fund

Supporters of Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) rallied in Missoula on Friday, after Republicans banned the state’s first transgender lawmaker from the state house floor for the rest of the legislative session.

In a 68­–32 vote last Wednesday, the GOP-controlled Montana House of Representatives barred Zephyr from the chamber in retaliation for an impassioned speech she gave from the House floor opposing a bill that would outlaw gender-affirming care for young people.

“If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr told her colleagues on April 18. Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed the bill into law on Friday.

Following Wednesday’s vote, Zephyr released a statement calling the move by Montana Republicans “a disturbing affront to democracy.”

“In recent months, the legislature has launched a relentless assault on the LGBTQI community, introducing bills that aim to undermine our art forms, our literature, our history, and our healthcare,” she wrote. “As I confronted the ban on gender-affirming care and exposed the grievous harm these bills inflict, I held those responsible to account. Subsequently, Speaker Regier denied me the right to be heard on any bill moving forward.”

“Though the Republican supermajority has voted to strip me of my ability to partake in debate, I remain steadfast in my commitment to my community. I will continue to make the difficult moral choices necessary to stand up for the people who entrusted me with their representation,” the statement continued.

Though she will still be allowed to cast votes remotely until the current legislative session ends on May 5, when Zephyr showed up to work from the hallway outside the House chamber last Thursday, she learned that her committee meetings had been canceled.

“Republicans used a series of procedures to remove every bill from my committees, silencing my constituents beyond what they already voted to do,” Zephyr wrote in tweet on Friday. “My constituents elected me to speak on their behalf—in committee & on the floor—and stopping me from doing so is anti-democratic.”

In response, Queer Joy Missoula organized a march and rally to protest the disciplinary action against Zephyr. On Friday, around 1,000 supporters in the lawmaker’s district marched from Missoula’s Rose Park to Caras Park, chanting “Let her speak” and carrying signs that read “Stand with Zooey,” “Protect trans kids,” and “smash the cis-tem.” Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess and several city council members joined the crowd, according to the Star Observer, and Zephyr was on hand to thank her constituents for their support.

The action, Queer Joy organizer Halle Smith told KPAX ahead of the rally, was meant “to remind the state that the power is in our hands. And even though they silenced Zooey’s microphone and the voices of her constituents, they really can’t silence us.”

“We are really powerful. This community is here. We’re not going anywhere and we’re here to support folks and provide community when it’s needed the most,” Jana Richter, another organizer with Queer Joy, said.

As New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie noted in an op-ed over the weekend, the Montana GOP’s action against Zephyr follows the expulsion of two Black state Democrats who participated in a protest calling for gun control from the Tennessee House of Representatives in early April.

“These moves against dissenting members constitute an attack on representation itself,” Bouie wrote. “Silencing and effectively banning Representative Zephyr means that about 10,000 people in Montana’s 100th District don’t have a voice in the legislature.”

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