A transgender member of the Montana State House who has been prevented by fellow Republicans from debating a bill in the House of Representatives that would ban gender-affirming care for minors said Tuesday that he sees similarities between his fellow lawmakers’ treatment of him and that of the “Tennessee Three.”
“There’s no question there are connections,” state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, speaking from Helena, told CBS News, comparing her situation to what in tennessee earlier this month, in which two of three Tennessee state legislators who had participated in a gun violence protest on the House floor, following the Nashville school massacre – were expelled in a vote. Both have since been re-elected.
“I think what we’re seeing is when marginalized communities, communities that are most affected by the legislation, stand up and speak out about the harm, whether it’s me speaking out about trans issues, whether it’s black youth speaking out about violence navy. Those people in power, particularly on the far right, don’t want to be held accountable for the real damage these bills bring.”
The 34-year-old Democrat has not been allowed to speak in the state House since declaring on April 18 that lawmakers who voted to ban gender-affirming care would have “blood on their hands.”
Since then, Republican House Speaker Matt Regier has refused to allow Zephyr to speak unless he apologized for his comments, which Zephyr indicated Tuesday he would not do.
“If I did it again, I would stand by what I said, because, again, I see the damage that these bills bring,” he said.
On Monday, seven people they were arrested by riot police for protesting on the House chambers in support of Zephyr, demanding that she be allowed to speak, while dozens more rallied on the steps of the state Capitol.
Regier called the arrests a “dark day for Montana” in a brief news conference Tuesday. before canceling the Tuesday afternoon session of the House, but without providing a reason.
“The headlines that have been going around over the past week claiming someone has been silenced by the leadership of the Montana House of Representatives or the Republican Party are false,” Regier said. “Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debates as long as they follow House rules. The decision not to follow House rules is a decision made by Rep. Zephyr. The only person who silences the Zephyr representative is the Zephyr representative. The House of Montana will not be intimidated. The 100 representatives will continue to receive the same treatment.”
Zephyr on Tuesday challenged Regier’s accusations that he had broken decorum with his earlier comments.
“We are chosen to have the difficult conversations,” he said. “And we’ve had people on the other side yell at their shutdowns, we’ve had people insinuate that my very existence somehow sexualizes children. And we objected. And then we move on. Because that is what we are elected as representatives for. Talk about bills.
State Senate Bill 99 was initially approved by the Republican-controlled legislature late last month, but Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte returned it to the legislature with some proposed changes. Those changes were approved by both chambers last week, and the bill has been returned to Gianforte’s desk for his signature.
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