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Transgender lawmaker silenced by Montana House speaker

Apr 20, 2023, 3:55 PM

Rep. Zoey Zephyr, D-Missoula, watches a House Rules Committee meeting on Thursday, April 20, 2023 i...

Rep. Zoey Zephyr, D-Missoula, watches a House Rules Committee meeting on Thursday, April 20, 2023 in the state capitol in Helena, Mont. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s House speaker refused to allow a transgender lawmaker to speak on a bill Thursday, two days after a conservative group of lawmakers deliberately misgendered her and called for her to be censured for emotional testimony against a bill seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

“It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity,” Republican Speaker Matt Regier said. “And any representative that I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized,”

Regier said he decision came after “multiple discussions” with other lawmakers and that previously there have been similar problems.

The Democratic caucus objected, but the House Rules committee upheld Regier’s decision on a party-line vote. As a result, Rep. Zooey Zephyr was not allowed to speak Thursday on a measure that would put a binary definition of male and female into state code.

The issue came to a head when Zephyr, a Democrat and the first transgender woman to hold a position in the Montana legislature, told lawmakers on Tuesday they would have “blood on their hands” if they voted in favor of a bill to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors. She had made a similar comment when the bill was debated in the House the first time.

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton rebuked Zephyr on Tuesday, calling her comments inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for.

Later Tuesday, a small group of conservative Republicans known as the Montana Freedom Caucus issued a demand for the House to censure Zephyr. Their letter called for a “commitment to civil discourse” in the same sentence in which they deliberately misgendered Zephyr. The caucus also misgendered Zephyr in a Tweet while posting the letter online.

“It is disheartening that the Montana Freedom Caucus would stoop so low as to misgender me in their letter, further demonstrating their disregard for the dignity and humanity of transgender individuals,” Zephyr said in a statement Wednesday. “Their call for ‘civility and respect’ is hypocritical given their actions.”

Zephyr said Wednesday that she stood by what she said Tuesday “of the devastating consequences of banning essential medical care for transgender youth. The gender-affirming care ban “is part of an alarming trend of anti-trans legislation in our state, which includes over a dozen unconstitutional bills. These bills ban our art forms, our stories, our healthcare, and our very existence in Montana code.”

She also spoke emotionally and directly to transgender Montanans in February in opposing a bill to ban minors from attending drag shows.

“I have one request for you: Please stay alive,” Zephyr said.

She also assured them she and others would keep fighting and challenge the bills in court.

The legislature has also passed a bill stating a student misgendering or deadnaming a fellow student is not illegal discrimination, unless it rises to the level of bullying.

At the end of Thursday’s House session, Democratic Rep. Marilyn Marler asked that the House majority allow Zephyr to speak on the floor going forward.

“This body is denying the representative … the chance to do her job,” Marler said.

Majority Leader Vinton, before moving for adjournment, said: “I will let the body know that the representative … has every opportunity to rectify the situation.”

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Transgender lawmaker silenced by Montana House speaker