Transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr has criticized the Montana House after it banned him from participating on the House floor for the remainder of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end by May 5.
Taking to Twitter on April 26, Zephyr, the first transgender lawmaker in the history of the Montana Legislature, called the ban “a disturbing affront to democracy” that had stripped him of his ability to represent 11,000 constituents in debate.
Lawmakers voted 68–32 on Wednesday to bar state Rep. Zephyr, a Democrat, from voting on the House floor after he broke decorum by telling legislators in a debate earlier this week that they would have “blood on [their] hands” if they backed a ban on transgender procedures for minors.
The bill, SB 99, also known as the “Youth Health Protection Act,” bans health care professionals in the state from carrying out transgender medical procedures on minors, although it includes certain exceptions, such as when the child is born with sexual development disorders, injuries, or diseases.
The Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, called Zephyr’s remarks “hateful rhetoric,” and demanded he be censured, which he later was.
However, the censuring prompted large protests by Zephyr’s supporters at the statehouse on Monday. Some of the protesters were arrested, according to the Montana Free Press.
‘Relentless Assault’ on LGBT Community
Under the motion passed on Wednesday, Zephyr will still be able to vote on his bills remotely but will not be allowed to speak during floor debates for the remainder of the legislative session.
“After silencing me for a week, they then proceeded to silence hundreds of Montanans who showed up to demand that their representative’s voice be heard,” Zephyr wrote in a statement on Twitter.
The lawmaker went on to accuse the Legislature of having launched a “relentless assault” on the LGBT community in recent months, introducing bills that he said “aim to undermine our art forms, our literature, our history, and our healthcare.”
“As I confronted the ban on gender-affirming care and exposed the previous harm these bills inflict, I held those responsible to account. Subsequently, Speaker [Matt] Regier denied me the right to be heard on any bill moving forward,” Zephyr wrote.
“Though the Republican supermajority has voted to strip me of my ability to partake in the debate, I remain steadfast in my commitment to my community. I will continue to make the difficult moral choices necessary to stand up for the people who entrusted me with their representation,” Zephyr concluded.
Speaking to House lawmakers ahead of the disciplinary vote, Zephyr said: “When I rose up and said ‘there is blood on your hands,’ I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we, as legislators, take in this body. And when the speaker asks me to apologize on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed.”
However, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, a Republican who brought the motion to bar Zephyr, told lawmakers on Wednesday that decorum is needed so that the rights of all representatives are protected.
‘Disruptive Conduct’ Placed Lawmakers at Risk
“Monday, this body witnessed one of its members participating in conduct that disrupted and disturbed the orderly proceedings of the body,” Vinton said. “This member did not accede to the order of the speaker to come to order and finally to clear the floor and instead encouraged the continuation of the disruption of this body, placing legislators, staff, and even our pages at risk of harm.”
Elsewhere, House Speaker Matt Regier, a Republican, told a press conference following Wednesday’s vote that it was necessary to restrict Zephyr from the floor in order to ensure the safety of legislators. He also cited the need to maintain decorum.
“We’ve had multiple breaches of decorum,” Regier said. “We do every session, we have people from both sides of the aisle … that breach decorum and they usually apologize and say they’ll stay within the rules moving forward.”
“We’re not going to treat one representative differently from the other 99,” he added.
According to his official website, Zephyr identifies as a “progressive, bisexual trans woman” and has spent his personal and professional life “advocating for queer rights.”
He previously worked as a full-time staff member at the University of Montana, first in the biology department, and later in the Office of the Provost, which oversees the academic and student support operations of the university.
A separate campaign website states that Zephyr was running for office because, “I believe that the best way for me to fight for social and economic justice is to get into the room where the laws are being written.”
Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.
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