Transgender lawmaker hopes her presence brings understanding

Dec 12, 2022, 6:40 PM | Updated: Dec 22, 2022, 4:55 pm
Zooey Zephyr, right, attends a legislative training session at the state Capitol in Helena, Mont., ...

Zooey Zephyr, right, attends a legislative training session at the state Capitol in Helena, Mont., on Nov. 16, 2022. Zephyr, who is one of the first two transgender candidates elected to the Montana Legislature, says she hopes her presence will help fellow lawmakers better understand the trans community and lead them to avoid proposing legislation that can legitimize violence against the transgender community. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

(Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Zooey Zephyr worked behind the scenes during Montana’s 2021 legislative session to oppose an ultimately unsuccessful effort to ban transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming health care, including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery.

When the 2023 session starts next month, she’ll face a similar challenge after a Republican lawmaker recently revealed he’ll run the proposal again. The move comes as GOP lawmakers nationwide are expected to continue to push for limits on transgender rights.

This time, though, Zephyr will have a seat at the table. And a vote.

Zephyr and SJ Howell are the first two openly transgender people to be elected to the Montana Legislature. They are among a record 10 transgender lawmakers who will be serving next year in state legislatures in Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. The first openly transgender lawmaker in the United States took office in 2018.

It’s part of a larger movement in which LGBTQ people are being elected in record numbers. At least 519 LGBTQ candidates won elective office this year, in positions ranging from school board up to Congress and governor, according to the Victory Fund. In California, 10% of the legislature identifies as LGBTQ.

“My hope is that by being present there … that people will begin to understand what it means to be trans, what it means to be a trans adult and what it is we hope for for trans children,” Zephyr said. “That they get to live their life, that they don’t have to hide the way I had to hide, the way other trans adults from past generations had to bury themselves.”

Zephyr and Howell are both Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, which could eventually hear a bill by Sen.-elect John Fuller, in which he again seeks to ban health care providers from treating transgender minors with puberty blockers, hormones or gender-affirming surgery.

Fuller’s proposed bill for the session that starts Jan. 2 is still being drafted in an effort “to make it unassailable,” he said.

Fuller introduced two bills in 2021 seeking to block medical providers from offering gender-affirming care to minors, but both failed.

He also sponsored a bill to prevent transgender women from competing on female sports teams. That measure was signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, but a judge overturned the law as it applied to college students and it’s not believed to have affected any high school students, said Brian Michelotti, the executive director of the Montana High School Association.

Fuller said he’s bringing forward the medical care legislation again because “we know a lot more about the consequences of those things and we have a lot more information than we had two years ago.” Lawmakers, he said, want to protect children from the debilitating effects of “a lifetime medical dependency.”

He declined to cite any studies, but said he had a pile of them on his desk.

It’s not clear how the legislation might fare. While Republicans gained four seats in the Legislature and have a supermajority, not all Republicans supported the bills during the 2021 session. Fuller’s first effort failed narrowly in the House and his second bill passed the House before being killed in the Senate.

Opponents of the proposal also have more research backing their arguments that gender-affirming medical care saves the lives of children suffering from gender dysphoria — the sense of unease that a person might have because their biological sex does not match their gender identity.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued guidance this year eliminating age minimums for providing gender-affirming healthcare for transgender adolescents. It encourages an individualized approach in determining when hormone therapy and surgery can take place.

believed treatment could begin earlier than previously recommended, with some patients beginning hormone therapy as young as age 14 and some surgical procedures starting as young as 15 and 17.

Transgender rights and medical treatment for transgender minors are highly charged issues around the country, leading to threats and violence.

The Montana bill comes as Arkansas, Alabama and Arizona have all passed legislation to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors. The Arkansas and Alabama laws have been subject to legal challenges.

A Texas judge has temporarily blocked a law that would have allowed the state to investigate parents for child abuse if their minor children received transgender medical care.

Fuller rejects the idea that his legislation means he hates the LGBTQ community. Instead, in a letter to the editor of the Daily Inter Lake, he said his proposal is meant “to protect children from being spayed, neutered and mutilated.”

Zephyr said legislation like Fuller’s, whether intended or not, “legitimizes” attacks against trans people.

“The far-right influencers who do want to paint LGBTQ people as pedophiles and groomers, they use this legislation as a way to amplify that violent rhetoric, which is exactly what drives the violence we’ve seen rising across the country, and events like Club Q,” Zephyr said.

Zephyr was referencing a recent shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in which five people were killed. The suspect has been charged with murder and hate crimes.

Montana lawmakers may also consider other bills that affect transgender residents.

Republican Rep. Braxton Mitchell has proposed a bill to forbid minors from attending drag shows and ban drag story hours in libraries, daycare facilities, pre-K or after-school programs, according to emails Mitchell sent to legislative staff.

For her part, Zephyr plans to introduce two bills to protect the LGBTQ community — one would ban the “gay/trans panic” defense as a legal defense in Montana and another would protect the right of transgender people to adopt children.

The gay/trans panic defense asks jurors to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction that led to the criminal charges, according to the American Bar Association. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia ban the use of such a defense, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based think tank.

Montana has protections allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children, but does not have specific protections for trans folks, Zephyr said.

Jason Pierceson, a professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield, whose expertise includes gender and politics, said legislation attacking the LGBTQ community is “really an attempt by the religious right and tied to the Republican Party to erase trans people from public life, to enact policies erasing all kinds of legal protections and in some ways trying to erase them more fundamentally from society.”

Zephyr and Howell’s presence in the Montana Legislature could help make a difference, he said.

“We know that representation like this matters in state legislatures,” Pierceson said, “particularly for expanding lesbian and gay rights.

Zephyr said she hopes to work with moderate Republicans “to help push back against what are extreme and dangerous attacks — attacks that deny trans people lifesaving medication.”

___

This story was corrected to say that the World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued guidance this year eliminating age minimums for providing gender-affirming healthcare for transgender adolescents. It encourages an individualized approach in determining when hormone therapy and surgery can take place.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in Nov. 2022, a...
Associated Press

News groups ask Idaho Supreme Court to reject University slayer gag order

Thirty news organizations have asked the Idaho Supreme Court to overturn a gag order in a case against a man accused of stabbing four students to death.
19 hours ago
Nathan Chasing Horse stands in court. Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in North Las Vegas, Nev. Nathan Chasing...
Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor charged in 2018 rape in PNW

Canadian police confirmed Tuesday they are pursuing a criminal case against a former "Dances With Wolves" actor who was arrested last week and charged in Nevada with sexually abusing and trafficking Indigenous women and girls.
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Tiny California mouse wins Guinness award for longevity

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A tiny California mouse now has a big title after winning a Guinness World record for longevity. A Pacific pocket mouse named Pat — after “Star Trek” actor Patrick Stewart — received the Guinness approval Wednesday as the oldest living mouse in human care at the ripe age of 9 years […]
19 hours ago
This shows a Chinese Dahua brand security camera in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Aust...
Associated Press

Australian Defense Department to remove Chinese-made cameras

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s Defense Department will remove surveillance cameras made by Chinese Communist Party-linked companies from its buildings, the government said Thursday after the U.S. and Britain made similar moves. The Australian newspaper reported Thursday that at least 913 cameras, intercoms, electronic entry systems and video recorders developed and manufactured by Chinese companies […]
19 hours ago
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a mi...
Associated Press

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un presides over big military parade

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought his young daughter to a huge military parade showing off the latest hardware of his fast-growing nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the United States, state media said Thursday. North Korean photos of Wednesday night’s parade in the capital, Pyongyang, […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Filmmaker Ken Burns walks with inmate Rahsaan Thomas at San Quentin State Prison in San Quen...
Associated Press

‘Ear Hustle’ podcast co-host is free from San Quentin prison

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A co-host of “Ear Hustle,” the Pulitzer Prize-nominated podcast produced behind bars, was released from San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday, a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom commuted his sentence. Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, 52, left the lockup near San Francisco and was greeted by his fellow podcast co-hosts Walter […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Transgender lawmaker hopes her presence brings understanding