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Transgender Montana lawmaker refuses to back down after silencing

Montana Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr hasn't been allowed to speak on the House floor recently, as 21 Republican lawmakers push to censure her.
Posted at 9:01 PM, Apr 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-21 21:01:23-04

A Montana state lawmaker is refusing to apologize after she angered Republicans and was barred from speaking on the House of Representatives floor.

On Tuesday in Helena, Montana, tempers flared at the state capitol as House lawmakers debated a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth — barring access to everything from medication to counseling to surgery. 

"Help does not come in the form of medically transitioning our youth," said Republican State Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe.

Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender woman to serve in the Montana legislature, stood to urge her colleagues to vote "No," angering her colleagues across the aisle in the process.

"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 said.

Republicans said she was out of line.

"That is entirely inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for," said Republican House Majority Leader Sue Vinton.

Zephyr describes Montana as a hostile state, as Republican lawmakers in the majority have pushed what she calls anti-trans policies

Last month, activists took over the capitol rotunda as part of a Transgender Day of Visibility. Zephyr says it was her duty to speak out.

"These bills cause real harm," she said. "They get my community killed, and I rose up in defense of my community to let that be known."

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Then it got uglier. 

A group of 21 Republican lawmakers called for Zephyr to be censured for "inappropriate" language, at the same time misgendering Zephyr in a statement and on Twitter by using the pronoun "his." Misgendering is widely considered offensive and demeaning.

On Thursday, as lawmakers debated another bill, House Speaker Matt Regier refused to let Zephyr speak.

"It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor to protect the dignity, integrity and any representative that I don't feel can do that will not be recognized," Regier said to the chamber.

Zephyr's colleagues stood in a symbolic show of support. 

Now it's now a standoff, with Zephyr not allowed to participate until she apologizes. She says that won't happen.

"I stand by my statements, and I will not apologize and I will continue to punch in on every piece of legislation that my community wants me to stand and talk on," Zepher said.

In an interview late Friday, Montana Speaker of the House Matt Regier said all 100 members of the chamber have to abide by the same decorum rules. He said he can't make an exception for just one.

"I need assurances that the next time any representative is going to be recognized that ... their intent is to stay within decorum," Regier said. "Until that trust is restored, I don't know how as speaker I would be doing my responsibilities by protecting the House and the entire decorum that we have all voted on here in our house rules."