Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender woman elected to the Montana Legislature, held her microphone in the air during a House session Monday as her supporters chanted “Let her speak!” from the gallery.
For the third day in a row, Zephyr’s House colleagues refused to allow her to speak on bills that would restrict the rights of transgender people. The refusal followed a comment she made last week during a hearing on a bill that seeks to ban gender-affirming care for minors.
“I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr, a Democrat, said while debating the bill on April 18.
That evening, the Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of 21 Montana Republicans, called for the House to censure Zephyr and misgendered her, using the incorrect pronouns to refer to her in a statement and social media post.
“This kind of hateful rhetoric from an elected official is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred,” they also said in the statement.
Though the House did not hold a vote to censure Zephyr, two days later House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier refused to recognize Zephyr and allow her to speak on a bill that would define sex under state law as only male or female, and determined only by biology and genetics “without regard to an individual’s psychological, behavioral, social, chosen, or subjective experience of gender.”
Both the House rules committee and the full House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2 to 1, voted to uphold Regier’s decision despite repeated protests from Democrats.
“It’s about everybody having equal access to this floor to be able to discuss and to be able to represent their community,” state Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, a Democrat, said Thursday, the Montana Standard reported. “And I believe that where we’re at is we are being discriminatory.”
In a statement shared on social media after Thursday's House session, Zephyr said, “No amount of silencing tactics will deter me from standing up for the rights of the transgender community.”
“This year, I have lost friends to suicide, and I have listened to the heart-wrenching stories of families dealing with suicide attempts, trans youth fleeing the state, and people being attacked on the side of road — all due to legislation like this,” she said in the statement.
Republicans have called on her to apologize for her remarks last week, but Zephyr said she has no intentions of doing so.
“Montana Republicans say they want an apology, but what they really want is silence as they take away the rights of queer and trans Montanans,” she said in her statement Thursday.
Republicans continued to block Zephyr from speaking Friday, including on bills unrelated to LGBTQ people. On Monday, some of her supporters delivered a petition with more than 3,000 signatures to Regier’s office, according to NBC affiliate KTVH of Helena.
Some of Zephyr’s supporters rallied on the Capitol steps Monday and at one point displayed banners across the front steps that read “Democracy dies here.”
Republicans voted again Monday afternoon to continue to block Zephyr from speaking and, after they did, protesters in the gallery shouted “Let her speak!” until they forced the House to halt proceedings. Zephyr held her microphone in the air.
Seven people were arrested for criminal trespass, the sheriff said. Regier’s office shared a statement Monday night describing the events as a “riot.”
“House Republicans condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate and respect for our processes of government,” Regier said in a joint statement with Rep. Sue Vinton, House majority leader, and Rep. Rhonda Knudsen, speaker pro tempore. “Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff.”
The Montana Freedom Caucus called for immediate disciplinary action against Zephyr in a statement Monday, saying she stood on the House floor and encouraged “an insurrection.”
Zephyr said in a statement that she raised her microphone to stand in solidarity with those who “protested on behalf of their democratic right to be heard.”
“As an elected representative, I am devoted to supporting those who speak in defense of democracy, as it is my duty to ensure their voices are heard and respected,” she said.