‘Let her speak!’: protests after Montana Republicans silence trans lawmaker – The Guardian US
Zooey Zephyr hasn’t been allowed to speak on house floor since taking a stand against bill that would ban gender-affirming care
Montana protesters brought the statehouse to a halt on Monday after Republican legislative leaders prevented a transgender lawmaker from speaking for a third day over her remarks about banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth.
The interruption is the latest development in a three-day fight over Montana state representative Zooey Zephyr’s remarks against lawmakers who support a ban on gender-affirming care. Zephyr, who is trans and a first-term Democrat, hasn’t been allowed to speak on the statehouse floor since Thursday because she told Republican colleagues last week they would have “blood on their hands” if they banned gender-affirming medical care.
Police arrested half a dozen of Zephyr’s supporters. Protesters, some of whom were forcibly removed from the chambers, chanted “Let her speak!” from the gallery before they were escorted out.
The Missoula Democrat was silenced and deliberately misgendered by some Republican lawmakers throughout last week. She was silenced for a second day on Friday as her Republican colleagues refused to let her speak on the chamber’s floor about a bill that would prevent minors from seeing pornography online.
Republican leaders have insisted Zephyr will not be allowed to speak until she apologizes. Matt Regier, the house speaker, and his Republican colleagues have indicated they have no plans to back down.
“There are 10,000 Montanans whose voice will not be heard because their representative will not be allowed to speak, and that makes me really sad,” said Representative Connie Keogh, another Missoula Democrat, as proceedings opened on Monday afternoon.
The standoff is the latest example of emergent discussions around civility, decorum and how to discuss political issues many perceive as life and death. Proponents of the ban on gender-affirming care see Zephyr’s remarks as unprecedented and personal in nature. She and her supporters say they accurately illustrate the stakes of the legislation under discussion, arguing that restricting gender-affirming care endangers trans youth, who many studies suggest suffer disproportionately from depression and suicidal tendency.
Katy Spence, a constituent of Zephyr’s who drove to the capitol from Missoula on Monday, said the standoff was about censoring ideas, not decorum.
“She’s been silenced because she spoke the truth about what these anti-trans bills are doing in Montana – to trans youth especially,” she said of Zephyr.
Zephyr’s supporters gathered outside the statehouse on Monday, waving pride flags and chanting “Let her speak!”. As proceedings began, they filled the statehouse gallery and supplemental Montana highway patrol officers stood by to monitor developments. Zephyr voted on various measures, but leadership pushed discussion of a bill she requested to speak on to the end of the agenda.
Republicans denied Zephyr’s requests to speak on a proposal that would have restricted when children could change the names and pronouns they use in school and required their parents’ consent, prompting her supporters to interrupt proceedings for nearly half an hour. In the initial moments after proceedings were paused on Monday afternoon, Zephyr defiantly hoisted a non-functioning microphone into the air.
Zephyr’s supporters were escorted from the gallery above the statehouse floor, several by force. Leaders cut the sound on the video feed and Zephyr remained on the floor holding her microphone. Zephyr did not return after lawmakers reconvened and wrote on Twitter that she would be back after showing “support for those who were arrested defending democracy”.
I have stepped off the house floor to show support for those who were arrested defending democracy.
I will be back as soon as I can.
Zephyr told the Associated Press she was headed to the county jail with the half-dozen protesters who were arrested.
The display followed a promise Zephyr made earlier on Monday, when she told supporters on the statehouse steps that she planned to continue speaking forcefully against legislation that members of the trans community, including herself, consider matters of life and death.
“I was sent here to speak on behalf of my constituents and to speak on behalf of my community. It’s the promise I made when I got elected and it’s a promise that I will continue to keep every single day,” Zephyr said before walking into the house chamber.
She connected the trans community’s plight against gender-affirming care bans to the political fights animating other marginalized groups throughout the United States.
“When those communities who see the repercussions of those bills have the audacity to stand up and say, ‘This legislation gets us killed,’ those in power aren’t content with just passing those hateful harmful bills,” she said. “What they are demanding is silence. We will not be complicit in our eradication.”
Last year, Zephyr became the first openly trans woman elected to the Montana legislature – putting her among a record number of trans lawmakers who began serving across the US.
The dispute started last Tuesday when the house was debating the Republican governor Greg Gianforte’s proposed amendments to a measure banning gender-affirming care for minors. Zephyr spoke up in reference to the body’s opening prayer.
“I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” she said.
Sue Vinton, the Republican house majority leader, called Zephyr’s comments inappropriate and disrespectful. That evening, a group of conservative lawmakers known as the Montana Freedom Caucus demanded Zephyr’s censure and deliberately referred to her using male pronouns in their letter and a tweet.
The bill banning gender-affirming care for minors is awaiting Gianforte’s signature. He has indicated he will sign it. The bill calls for it to take effect on 1 October, but the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have said they will challenge it in court.