Transgender Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr is facing calls for censure after saying legislators who voted for a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth have blood on their hands.
Zephyr made the comment Tuesday as the state’s House of Representatives debated amendments to a bill banning this treatment. The House and Senate had both already passed the bill, but they had to vote on it again because Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte had requested amendments to it.
The amendments assure that such care will be available to minors “born with a medically verifiable disorder of sex development” but not those seeking gender transition, Gianforte wrote in a letter to legislators, and strengthen a prohibition on public funding for transition-related treatments for young people.
In his letter, Gianforte also wrote, “‘Gender-affirming care’ for children is Orwellian Newspeak, a seemingly innocuous, even solicitous phrase that masks its true nature of permanent, invasive, life-altering and surgical procedures, performed on children whose young minds and bodies are still developing.” “Newspeak” is the language used in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and it often masks reality.
The House approved the amendments Tuesday, but not before Zephyr spoke out passionately against the bill. The Senate OK’d them as well, sending it back to Gianforte, who has said he’d sign the bill as amended. It bans not only genital surgery, which is almost never performed on minors, but also puberty blockers and hormone treatment.
“Gender-affirming care is not ‘Orwellian Newspeak,’ as it says in this letter,” Zephyr said on the House floor. “It is accepted by every major medical association.” She pointed out that the amendments define gender as binary. “You could not legislate binary sex any more than you could legislate that the Earth is flat,” she said. “Intersex people exist, trans people exist, and this bill doesn’t change that.”
“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed,” she continued. After House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, a Republican, said the body would not be shamed by any member, Zephyr added,
“The only thing I will say is if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
That led to the censure demand from the Montana Freedom Caucus, made up of the state’s most conservative legislators. “The Montana Freedom Caucus demands Representative Zooey Zephyr of Missoula’s House District 100 be censured by the House for attempting to shame the Montana legislative body and by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate over amendments concerning Senate Bill 99 — to ban sex changes of minor children,” said a press release the group shared on Twitter. “This bill already passed the Montana House and Senate, and the debate was over amendments requested by the governor.”
The caucus also invoked the recent mass shooting in Nashville, in which the shooter, who died there as well, was said to be transgender (almost all mass shootings are perpetrated by cisgender men). The caucus went on to condemn former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, who has denounced the rightward swing of the legislature.
“This kind of hateful rhetoric from an elected official is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred,” the caucus wrote. “Combined with former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson’s recent calls for ‘jihad’ and a ‘fight to the death,’ there is unmistakable evidence of a desire for some to engage in violence over political beliefs. This must stop.” The release also misgendered Zephyr.
For the record, neither Zephyr nor Nelson called for violence. Nelson has said he stands by his words, and Zephyr tweeted, “When I said there is blood on their hands, I meant it. All legislators (& the Gov) received a letter from an ER doctor who dealt w/ a suicide attempt from a trans teen who cited OUR LEGISLATURE as a factor in their suicidality. ‘My state doesn’t want me,’ is what they said.”
The Advocate has asked Zephyr for comment on the caucus’s release and will update this story if we receive a response.