A photo of women heckling transgender Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr is getting attention for its resemblance to images of bigotry from the past, and some of Zephyr’s supporters have responded the women’s action by stepping up for her.
Zephyr, a Democrat, was barred from the Montana House chamber last week because she spoke out against a ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors, telling her colleagues that if they supported it, they would have blood on their hands. She had to do her legislative work remotely, usually from a bench in a hallway at the state capitol. She sued to regain access to the chamber, but a judge ruled against her this week, and the legislature has now adjourned — after having passed the ban on gender-affirming care, which has been signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.
This Monday, a group of women occupied her bench, “forcing Zephyr to work standing up at a nearby lunch counter,” Business Insider reports. The women said they were wives of some legislators.
“The photo, in which the women appear to smile and laugh while leering at Zephyr, is reminiscent of photos taken during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that show white people mocking and harassing Black people,” the outlet notes. The site points out the resemblance to pictures of white people glaring at Black student Elizabeth Eckford as she entered the just-desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, and at Black customers seeking service at a restaurant in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960.
Zephyr responded to her bench’s occupation with a degree of humor. “Some folks showed up early this morning and sat on the public benches near the entrance to the House, so Seat 31 has moved,” she tweeted. “I’m up and ready to work. Plus, I hear stand desks are all the rage these days.” Seat 31 was her assigned seat in the chamber.
Tuesday, some of Zephyr’s supporters showed up to reserve the bench for her. Kev Hamm, president of Montana Pride, tweeted that they were the “blue bench brigade.”
Shani Henry, vice chairperson of the Lewis and Clark County Democrats and an activist with gun control group Moms Demand Action, was among them too, as were some local tech professionals, the Daily Montanan reports. “The effort appears to be uncoordinated, inspired by Zephyr’s resilience and commitment to work for her 11,000 constituents,” the paper notes. Some visitors gave Zephyr a corsage, cards, and earrings, and several young trans people stopped to talk with her.
Zephyr tweeted her appreciation.