Montana Transgender Lawmaker Zooey Zephyr Files Lawsuit After Censure
Montana transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr has filed a lawsuit after being censured by Republicans in the state for criticizing Republican colleagues who supported a bill banning transition therapy for minors. Zephyr called the Republicans’ move a “terrifying” affront to democracy, saying that “House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.”
The recent actions violate my 1st amendment rights, as well as the rights of my 11,000 constituents to representation.
Montana's State House is the people’s House, not Speaker Regier’s, and I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard. pic.twitter.com/eyDjgchWPQ
— Rep. Zooey Zephyr (@ZoAndBehold) May 1, 2023
Calls for Apology Ignored, Republicans Bar Zephyr from House Floor
Zephyr’s comments had prompted calls for an apology, but after refusing to do so, Republicans led the chamber in a 68-32 vote to bar Zephyr from accessing the House floor. Zephyr cannot enter the anteroom or gallery but can vote remotely. The censure vote came after House Speaker Matt Regier said Zephyr’s comments violated decorum rules.
Though they initially tried to have me removed from the public seating area, I am here working on behalf of my constituents as best I can given the undemocratic circumstances.
I'm talking to legislators, listening to debate, voting on bills, and fighting for democracy. pic.twitter.com/Ea8y7a48LC
— Rep. Zooey Zephyr (@ZoAndBehold) April 27, 2023
Zephyr Defends Right to Speak Out Against Discriminatory Bill
Zephyr said that the House leadership’s attempt to silence her and her constituents was a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself. He added that he was determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard. However, he was not banned for her opinions or stances on transgender minors accessing surgeries, rather he was banned for commenting on SB99 saying, “The only thing I will say is if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” These comments and Zephyr’s ban ultimately lead to a riot ensuing in the Montana State Capitol. Zephyr would go on to not apologize for comments he made.
ACLU and Law Partners Challenge Censure in State Court
The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and the law partners of Beck, Amsden, and Staples filed suit in state court challenging the censure.
“I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
On April 18, Montana State Representative, Zooey Zephyr made this statement. This indecent and incendiary statement caused her to be banned from speaking again. He spoke these words in a debate last week concerning legislation to prevent minor children from being treated with gender-transition drugs and surgeries. Zooey Zephyr is the first transgender State Representative in Montana. The banning of Zephyr caused a riot on Monday in the Capitol city of Helena, Montana.
At least seven demonstrators were arrested at the Montana State Capitol on Monday after a raucous crowd interrupted the legislature with a noisy protest to support a transgender lawmaker who was suspended from speaking on the floor for incendiary remarks.
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, 34, was shown raising a microphone in the air on the House floor as Montana Highway Patrol officers sought to restore order while a mob of about 100 activists in the gallery chanted “Let her speak!”
The seven protesters were charged with criminal trespass and released without bond, the Helena Independent Record reported.
Transgender Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr was again prevented from taking part in debate over a measure banning gender-affirming care for minors as her supporters brought the House session to a halt — chanting “Let her speak!” from the gallery. https://t.co/J6SGW8BJZy pic.twitter.com/GlEZFoFYHb
— ABC News (@ABC) April 25, 2023
“When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being turned off, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic rights to be heard – and some were arrested in the process,” the Missoula Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. “I stood by them in solidarity and continue to do so.”
House Speaker Matt Regier, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, and Speaker Pro Tempore Rhonda Knudsen issued a statement afterward thanking law enforcement and reconfirming their commitment to “decorum, safety and order.”
Senate Bill 99 passed, but Mr. Regier cited the comments as a breach of decorum and said the lawmaker must issue an apology before being recognized again.
The Montana Freedom Caucus called Monday for “immediate disciplinary action against Democrat Representative Zooey Zephyr of Missoula,” who they said was “encouraging an insurrection.”
“The Montana Freedom Caucus condemns the actions of violent protesters at the capitol building today,” said the caucus of conservative Republicans in a statement. “The actions of a small minority of people disrupted the business of all Montanans and continue to show why we must enforce rules of decorum when engaged in public debate.”
The caucus also said that “Representative Zephyr encouraged these actions by standing in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection after all members were told to move to the sides and clear the House gallery to remain in a safe location.”
A spokesperson for Governor Greg Gianforte’s office has said:
The governor believes the representative’s comments were inappropriate, and this is a matter for the legislature to resolve. Every minute the legislature spends on this is a minute they aren’t working on legislators’ important bills or Montanans’ priorities.
Montana’s Republican party is also weighing in on the events with the following statement:
“House Republicans condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate and respect for our processes of government. Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff. Their actions did not represent Montana values. We want to thank our law enforcement for maintaining order and protecting the safety of everyone at the Capitol. House Leadership will still stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order. We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena.” – Rep. Matt Regier, Rep. Rhonda Knudsen and Rep. Sue Vinton jointly