NATIONAL NEWS

Standoff endures over Montana transgender Democrat’s remarks

Apr 25, 2023, 10:16 AM

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, stands on the steps of the Montana State Capitol during a rally, in ...

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, stands on the steps of the Montana State Capitol during a rally, in Helena, Mont., Monday, April 24, 2023. Republican legislative leaders in Montana persisted in forbidding the Democratic transgender lawmaker from participating in debate for a second week as her supporters brought the House session to a halt Monday, chanting "Let her speak!" from the gallery before they were escorted out. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The standoff over whether Montana Republicans will let a transgender Democrat in the state House participate will likely continue on Tuesday, a day after protests and arrests galvanized both those demanding she be allowed to speak and those saying her actions constitute an unprecedented attack on civil discourse.

A caucus of right-wing lawmakers re-upped their demands for legislative leaders to discipline Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr of Missoula after protesters chanting on her behalf interrupted proceedings in the Statehouse on Monday. The Montana Freedom Caucus — a group of 21 conservative lawmakers — said Zephyr’s decision to hoist a microphone toward the gallery’s protesters amounted to “encouraging an insurrection.”

Though they did not specify whether they were calling for Zephyr’s censure or expulsion, the caucus’s demands for discipline reflect how the standoff over remarks Zephyr made last week continues to boil and will likely take on expanded significance in the nationwide debate over the role of protest in democracy. Its unclear if House leaders will follow the Freedom Caucus’s direction, but in a joint statement Monday they said they “condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate and respect for our processes of government.”

Seven were arrested for criminal trespass however no physical injuries or property damage have been reported.

Zephyr hasn’t been permitted to speak since she said last Tuesday that those who voted to ban gender-affirming care for youth would have “blood on their hands.” Republicans said the remark was far outside the boundaries of appropriate civil discourse and demanded she apologize before being allowed to participate in legislative discussions.

Multiple studies have shown that transgender youth are more likely to consider or attempt suicide and are less at risk for depression and suicidal behaviors when able to access gender-affirming care.

Zephyr, undaunted, has said she does not intend to apologize and argued that her remarks accurately reflected the stakes of such bans for transgender kids. On Monday, she said the seven arrested were “defending democracy” and in a morning speech said that the sequence of events that followed her remarks illustrated how they had struck a chord with those in power.

“They picked me in this moment because I said a thing that got through their shield for a second,” she told a crowd of supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps near a banner that read “Democracy dies here.”

Both Zephyr and legislative leaders said they are unsure what to expect when the Montana House reconvenes on Tuesday afternoon. Republicans and Democrats are both scheduled to hold news conferences.

“Spirited debate is encouraged in our democracy — it’s part of what makes our country great but with that comes a responsibility to be civil and to avoid extreme rhetoric and violence,” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said in a statement.

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