A transgender lawmaker was denied the opportunity to speak on the house floor by the Montana House speaker until she apologized for saying lawmakers would have “blood on their hands” if they supported a bill that bans gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.
First-term state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, intentionally misgendered by conservatives after Tuesday’s remarks, said she wouldn’t apologize, causing a standoff between Republican leaders and Zephyr. She is the first transgender person elected to office in the state.
She attempted to address the question of putting a binary definition of gender in state law on Thursday, but Republican Speaker Matt Regier would not acknowledge her.
“It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity,” Regier declared. “And any representative that I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized.”
While Democrats objected to Regier’s decision, it was upheld on party-line votes by the House Rules Committee and the House.
Zephyr tells The Advocate that she will not apologize because she has nothing to apologize for.
“I spoke with clarity and precision about the real harms. I have lost friends this year. I have had families tell me about suicide attempts from their youth in relation to these bills, trans youth who have fled the state trans people who have been beaten in public. I spoke about the real harm in this type of legislation, and the GOP’s reaction to being held accountable was to choose to silence me,” Zephyr says.
The lawmaker notes that she represented her constituents by commenting on the effects a damaging piece of legislation would have on people like herself, whom she represents in an elected capacity.
“There’s a clear intersection between the harmful legislation targeting the LGBTQ community and undemocratic processes that we’re seeing unfolding in legislatures across the country. What you see is when marginalized groups are speaking about very real harm happening to our communities, people in positions of power are not content just to ignore those cries for empathy and care,” she says. “They’re trying to silence the voices that are speaking up on behalf of their constituents.”
Zephyr says the situation can be compared to what happened recently in Tennessee, where three lawmakers spoke in opposition to the state’s lax gun laws, and two of them — Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, who are both Black — were kicked out of the body to silence them. The two legislators were reinstated through appointments by boards in their districts.
The same Republicans who were outraged by Zephyr’s comments assigning responsibility to those who pass anti-trans legislation penned a letter that repeatedly misgendered Zephry while calling for her censure.
“It’s hypocritical, but it’s coming from a caucus who talks about limited government as their goal, and then the very same caucus is pushing to take away medical care [that] is accepted by every major medical association from people like me,” she says. “I think there’s inherently a hypocritical nature there, but I’m not surprised that they would stoop so low as to misgender me.”
Regarding her next steps, Zephyr says the ball is in the Republican leadership’s court, but that she won’t apologize for speaking truth to power.
“They’re saying they are demanding an apology [from me ]for standing up and defending my community against the bill that will get people in my community killed. They say they want an apology, but they really want silence as they strip away the rights of queer and trans Montanans,” she says. “I am going to continue to do what I was sent here to do. I will punch in on every bill that I feel like I have things to say about things to speak on. And I will punch in, ask, and demand to be recognized.”
Zephyr adds, “Where that goes from here depends largely on the Speaker and the body — if they are going to see fit to allow me to partake in debate as is my right as a duly elected representative of the state of Montana.”