Montana Republicans Censure Trans Lawmaker, Silencing Her for Rest of the Session

Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) has been a target of Republicans since she said they would have "blood on their hands" for passing anti-trans bills.

Montana Republicans Censure Trans Lawmaker, Silencing Her for Rest of the Session
Photo:Thom Bridge/Independent Record (AP)

In a party-line vote on Wednesday, the Montana state House of Representatives voted to censure Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D), the state’s first openly trans lawmaker, after refusing to let her speak on the House floor for three days because they didn’t like the way she talked about the consequences of the anti-trans bills they are considering.

Zephyr’s been the target of Republican ire since last week when she told them they would have “blood on their hands” if they voted for a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. “I rose up in defense of my community that day, speaking to harms that these bills bring,” Zephyr, whose desk in the chamber was filled with flowers, said in a speech to her colleagues shortly before the vote.

On Monday, after GOP members voted to cut off her microphone, supporters who’d gathered in the public gallery began shouting in protest. House Speaker Matt Regier (R) instructed lawmakers to clear the floor, but Zephyr remained, holding her microphone up to the protesters’ chants of “let her speak!” Seven of them were arrested.

The Republicans who spoke in favor of censuring her—which means she is now officially barred from speaking for the remainder of the session—cited her engagement with the protesters as the reason. The measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass, which it got thanks to the Republicans’ supermajority in the House.

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton (R) said they “disrupted and disturbed” the session and Zephyr “encouraged the continuation of the disruption of this body,” putting her colleagues and capitol staff “at risk of harm.” Video of the incident shows a few dozen protesters (including one on crutches) yelling and refusing to leave the chamber when instructed by Regier. Those who were arrested did not struggle as they were led out in handcuffs. Members of the public were barred from the public galleries on Wednesday.

Rep. David Bedey (R) accused Zephyr of “failing to do her duty” to uphold “decorum.” But Zephyr made clear that, to her, her caucus, and her community, this was about far more than “decorum.”

“I have friends that have taken their lives because of these bills,” she said in her speech before the vote, referring to a number of anti-trans bills the legislature is considering, including legally codifying binary gender; banning drag; and preventing children from informally changing their pronouns at school without parental permission. Zephyr said she had received multiple phone calls from concerned families, including one that shared that their teenage daughter “attempted to take her life while watching a hearing” on one of these bills.

When she warned that Republicans will have “blood on their hands,” “I was not being hyperbolic,” she said. “I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we as legislators take in this body.”

Zephyr did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.

A number of her fellow Democrats spoke in support of her, including Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, who noted that trans rights are not being debated just in Montana, but all across the nation and the world. He said his tribe has long acknowledged “two spirit” individuals and reminded his colleagues that, “No matter who we are, we are all equal under the eyes of almighty.”

Rep. SJ Howell—who is nonbinary and said that they had also been subject to “deeply offensive” comments from “people in this room”—noted that all of the bills that Zephyr was against were brought by Republicans.

“We did not go to look for that fight, but when it came to us…we stood up, we stood with our community, we told the truths that we live every day,” Howell said. “We hoped you would listen. That’s our job.”

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