Montana transgender lawmaker: “We’re elected to have the hard conversations”
▶ Watch Video: Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr on being blocked from debating an anti-trans bill
A Montana transgender state House member who has been prevented by her Republican colleagues from debating a bill on the House floor that would ban gender-affirming care for minors said Tuesday she sees similarities between her treatment by fellow lawmakers and that of the “Tennessee Three.”
“There are no doubt there are connections,” state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, speaking from Helena, told CBS News, comparing her situation to that in Tennessee earlier this month, in which two of three Tennessee state lawmakers who had taken part in a gun violence protest in the House chamber — in the wake of the Nashville school massacre — were expelled in a vote. The two have since been reappointed.
“I think what we’re seeing is that when marginalized communities, communities who are impacted the most by legislation, rise up and speak to the harm, whether it’s me speaking on trans issues, whether it’s young Black men speaking on gun violence. Those folks in power, particularly on the far right, do not want to be held accountable for the real harm that these bills bring.”
The 34-year-old Democrat has not been allowed to speak on the state House floor since she declared on April 18 that legislators who voted in favor of the ban on gender-affirming care would have “blood on your hands.”
Republican state House Speaker Matt Regier has since refused to allow Zephyr to speak unless she apologizes for her comments, which Zephyr indicated Tuesday she would not do.
“If I did it again, I would stand by what I said, because, again, I see the harm that these bills bring,” she said.
On Monday, seven people were arrested by riot police for protesting in the House chambers in support of Zephyr, demanding she be allowed to speak, while dozens more rallied on the steps of the state Capitol.
Regier called the arrests a “dark day for Montana” in a brief news conference Tuesday, prior to canceling the House’s Tuesday afternoon session, but without providing a reason.
“Headlines that have happened over the last week, stating that Montana House leadership or GOP has silenced anyone is false,” Regier claimed. “Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debates while following the House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made. The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. The Montana House will not be bullied. All 100 representatives will continue to be treated the same.”
Zephyr on Tuesday challenged Regier’s allegations that she had broken decorum with her previous comments.
“We’re elected to have the hard conversations,” she said. “And we’ve had people on the other side who have screamed in their closings, we’ve had people who’ve insinuated that my existence itself somehow sexualizes children. And we objected. And then we moved on. Because that’s what we as representatives are elected to do. Speak on the bills.”
State Senate Bill 99 was initially passed by the Republican-controlled legislature late last month, but Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte returned it to the legislature with some proposed changes. Those changes were approved last week by both chambers, and the bill has been returned to Gianforte’s desk for his signature.