Supporters of silenced Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr won’t face trespassing charges

Aug 23, 2023, 10:45 AM

FILE - Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, alone on the House floor, stands in protest as demons...

FILE - Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, alone on the House floor, stands in protest as demonstrators are arrested in the House gallery of the state Capitol, April 24, 2023, in Helena, Mont. Republican legislative leaders 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 chanting "Let her speak!" from the gallery. Lewis and Clark County prosecutors in Montana are declining to pursue the misdemeanor trespassing charges filed against the seven protesters who were arrested. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)

(Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana prosecutors are declining to pursue misdemeanor trespassing charges against seven people who were arrested in the state House gallery for protesting after Republicans denied transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr the right to debate bills near the end of the 2023 legislative session.

The Lewis and Clark County Attorney’s Office filed motions in Justice Court to dismiss the charges “in the best interests of justice.” A justice of the peace signed three of the seven motions on Tuesday, court officials said. The others are pending.

Zephyr’s silencing drew scores of protesters to the state Capitol and renewed nationwide debates about manners in politics. It also took place as conservative lawmakers nationwide have introduced a flurry of anti-LGBTQ+ bills this year.

One of the defendants, Paul Kim of Missoula, said his attorney told him the county decided to drop the charges. Phone messages seeking comment Tuesday from County Attorney Kevin Downs and Deputy County Attorney Deanna Rothwell were not returned.

The plaintiffs were arrested on April 24 after a group of people disrupted the floor session for about 30 minutes when the Republican majority denied Zephyr, a Democratic representative from Missoula, the opportunity to speak on a bill that would require parental consent for children to change the names and pronouns they use at school.

Zephyr defiantly hoisted her microphone into the air as her supporters chanted “Let her speak!”

Zephyr had been silenced for telling fellow lawmakers that if they supported a bill to ban gender affirming medical care for transgender youth they would have blood on their hands. Republican lawmakers then banned Zephyr from the House floor for violating decorum during the protest, leaving her to watch the deliberations and vote on bills from a hallway outside the House chambers.

House Speaker Matt Regier did not immediately respond to a phone message Wednesday seeking comment on the dismissals, but Republican House leadership at the time described the disruption as a “riot” and an “ insurrection,” that put lawmakers and staff in danger. No property damage or threats to lawmakers were reported.

Kim, one of those who was charged, said he was at the Capitol that day for a rally in support of Zephyr and the LGBTQ+ community. The loud protest in the gallery, he said, was a “spontaneous moment.”

Once law enforcement officers — some in riot gear — tried to clear the gallery, Kim said he made a decision for himself that “I was not going to be corralled out of there.”

Zephyr issued a statement Tuesday saying she was “overjoyed” to learn that the trespassing charges were being dismissed.

“When I find the strength to stand up in the legislature, I do so knowing that I am standing in solidarity with a long history of those who stood up to defend democracy,” she said. “That history now includes each of you.”

During the 2023 legislative session, Montana’s Republican supermajority passed bills to limit drag shows and ban drag queen reading events at public schools and libraries and to define “sex” in state law as only male or female, something LGBTQ+ advocates say will deny legal recognition to nonbinary and transgender people.

The ban on gender affirming medical care for minors is set to take effect on Oct. 1, but a lawsuit is asking a state judge to temporarily block its enforcement until the case can be heard in court. A hearing is set for Sept. 18.

National News

FILE - A man walks through wildfire wreckage in Lahaina, Hawaii, Aug. 11, 2023. Federal authorities...

Associated Press

Cleanup from Maui fires complicated by island’s logistical challenges, cultural significance

Cleanup of areas destroyed in the Maui wildfires could end up being one of the most complex to date, federal officials said, given the island’s significant cultural sites, its rich history including a royal residence and possibly remains of people who died in the disaster. The first stage of cleanup started in late August, with […]

2 hours ago

Toddlers dance during play time at Living Water Child Care and Learning Center as center director J...

Associated Press

Child care programs just lost thousands of federal dollars. Families and providers scramble to cope

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) — Kaitlyn Adkins is studying law to help families in her community impacted by the opioid epidemic at the heart of West Virginia coal country. But to do that, she needs someone to help look after her three toddlers. The first-generation college graduate said she wouldn’t be able to finish law school […]

3 hours ago

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Wednesday, Aug 30, 2023, in Washington. The Supreme Court is...

Associated Press

A test case of another kind for the Supreme Court: Who can sue hotels over disability access

WASHINGTON (AP) — A few years back, Joseph Stramondo was a last-minute replacement as a conference speaker in Salt Lake City. He went online and made a reservation for a room accessible for people with disabilities. “I figured, ‘OK, I should be set,’” Stramondo said. But when he checked in, the room he was given […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzho...

Associated Press

US warns of Chinese global disinformation campaign that could undermine peace and stability

WASHINGTON (AP) — For much of the world, China’s Xinjiang region is notorious, a place where ethnic Uyghurs face forced labor and arbitrary detention. But a group of visiting foreign journalists was left with a decidedly different impression. On a tour in late September sponsored by Beijing, the 22 journalists from 17 countries visited bazaars […]

3 hours ago

CAPTION CORRECTION: CORRECTS SPELLING OF NAME: Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson stands ...

Associated Press

Suspect charged in fatal shooting of Tupac Shakur to make court appearance in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A self-described gangster who police and prosecutors say masterminded the shooting death of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas in 1996 is due to make his first appearance Wednesday before a Nevada judge. Duane “Keffe D” Davis, 60, was arrested Friday during an early-morning walk near his home in suburban Henderson. A […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

These 8 Republicans stood apart to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Kevin McCarthy had support from 208 members of his conference to remain as House speaker. But it took only eight dissenters in his party to boot him from the job. A handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to make history as McCarthy became the first speaker in U.S. history to be […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Supporters of silenced Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr won’t face trespassing charges