Transgender Montana lawmaker faces censure or expulsion

By AMY BETH HANSON and SAM METZ (Associated Press)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Republican leaders will vote Wednesday on whether to censure or expel Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender state representative who was silenced in the House last week after telling colleagues that if she voted for a bill to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender children would have “blood on its hands.”

Late Tuesday, Zephyr tweeted a letter she received from House leaders informing her of the plan to consider disciplinary action against her during Wednesday’s session.

“I was also told I would get a chance to speak,” Zephyr tweeted. “I will do as I have always done – I will stand up for my constituents, in defense of my community and for democracy itself.”

Montana’s House Speaker canceled Tuesday’s meeting without explanation, the latest development in a showdown over whether Montana Republicans will let the Missoula lawmaker speak unless she apologizes for her remarks last week on a proposal to ban gender-affirming care.

Like the events at the Tennessee Statehouse a few weeks ago — in which two lawmakers were expelled after participating in a gun control protest after the after-school shooting that disrupted proceedings — Zephyr’s punishment ignited a firestorm of debate about governance and democracy in times of political polarization.

“Republicans are doubling down on their agenda to infringe on the rights of Montanans — to free speech, to peaceful protest, to equal justice under the law,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said of the plan to discipline Zephyr.

Zephyr’s remarks and the Republican response set off a chain of events that culminated in a rally in front of the Capitol at noon Monday and seven arrests later that afternoon as protesters crowded the Statehouse gallery to shut down House proceedings. as they chanted “Let her speak.” The scene galvanized both those calling for her to be allowed to speak and those who say her actions constitute an unacceptable attack on civil discourse.

Such a protest will not be allowed to take place on Wednesday. Republican leaders said in the letter to Zephyr that the gallery would be closed “to maintain decorum and ensure safety.”

Speaker Matt Regier did not respond to questions Tuesday or explain why lawmakers did not return their word, but in a brief statement called the disruptions a “dark day for Montana.”

“Currently, all representatives are free to participate in the debates of the House by following the rules of the House,” Regier told reporters. “The choice to disobey House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr made. The only person who silenced Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. Montana House will not be assaulted.”

Republican Casey Knudsen, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said Tuesday’s cancellation gave leaders time to respond to Monday’s events. Abbott said he saw the leadership’s decision to cancel as giving MPs “some time to regroup”.

Under Regier’s leadership, the House has not allowed Zephyr to speak since last week, when he said those who voted to ban gender-affirming care for youth would have “blood on their hands.” He and other Republicans said the remark was far outside the bounds of proper civil discourse and called on him to apologize before being allowed to participate in legislative discussions.

The events showed the growing power of the Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of right-wing lawmakers that led the charge to discipline Zephyr. The caucus resumed its demands and rhetoric on Monday. In a statement, they said Zephyr’s decision to raise a microphone to gallery protesters amounted to “encouraging an insurrection.”

Although several protesters resisted law enforcement officers trying to arrest them on Monday, Abbott declined to characterize the activity as violent. She admitted it was disruptive but called the demonstration peaceful. She said the public protests were a predictable response to an MP representing more than 10,000 constituents not being allowed to speak and was questioned about bringing in plainclothes officers to deal with the protesters.

“He was chanting, but he was absolutely not violent,” she said. “Sometimes extreme measures have a response like this.”

No damage was reported to the building, and lawmakers were not threatened.

On Monday, Zephyr said the seven arrested were “defending democracy” and, in an earlier speech, said the sequence of events that followed her remarks illustrated how they had come to terms with those in power.

“They elected me at this point because I said one thing that got through their shield for a second,” she told a crowd of supporters gathered on the Capitol steps next to a banner reading “Democracy Dies Here.”

She said she had no plans to apologize and argued that her “blood on your hands” remark accurately reflected the stakes of such bans on transgender children.


This story has been corrected to show that Rep. Casey Knudsen is not a member of the Montana Freedom Caucus.

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