Rep Who Spoke Up for Trans Rights Faces Expulsion

GOP has frozen Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr from speaking after 'blood on their hands' remark
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 26, 2023 6:28 AM CDT
Rep Who Spoke Up for Trans Rights Faces Expulsion
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, waves to supporters during a rally in Helena, Montana, on Monday.   (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

Montana Republican leaders will vote Wednesday on censuring or expelling lawmaker Zooey Zephyr, a transgender state representative who's been silenced in the House since last week after telling colleagues that if they voted for a bill to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender children, they'd "have blood on their hands." On Tuesday night, Zephyr tweeted a letter she received from House leaders informing her of the plan to consider disciplinary action against her during Wednesday's session, per the AP. "I've also been told I'll get a chance to speak," Zephyr tweeted. "I will do as I have always done—rise on behalf of my constituents, in defense of my community, & for democracy itself."

Montana's House speaker canceled Tuesday's floor session without explanation, the latest development in a standoff over whether Montana Republicans will let the lawmaker from Missoula speak unless she apologizes for her remarks last week on a gender-affirming care ban. Much like events in the Tennessee Statehouse weeks ago—where two lawmakers were expelled after participating in a post-school shooting gun control protest that interrupted proceedings—Zephyr's punishment has ignited a firestorm of debate about governance and democracy in politically polarizing times. "Republicans are doubling down on their agenda of running roughshod over Montanans' rights—to free expression, 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 outside the state Capitol at noon Monday, and seven arrests later that afternoon when protesters packed into the gallery at the Statehouse brought House proceedings to a halt. The events have showcased the growing power of the Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of right-wing lawmakers that has spearheaded the charge to discipline Zephyr. In a statement Monday, they said that Zephyr's decision to hoist a microphone toward the gallery's protesters amounted to "encouraging an insurrection." Although several protesters resisted law enforcement officers trying to arrest them on Monday, Abbott pushed back at characterizing the activity as violent. She acknowledged it was disruptive but called the demonstration peaceful.

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There were no reports of damage to the building, and lawmakers weren't threatened. Such a protest won't be allowed to happen Wednesday: Republican leaders said in their letter that the gallery will be closed "to maintain decorum and ensure safety." Speaker Matt Regier didn't explain Tuesday why lawmakers weren't returning to the floor, but in a brief statement called the disruptions a "dark day for Montana." "Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debates while following the House rules," Regier told reporters. "The choice to not follow the House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made. The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr." On Monday, Zephyr said the seven arrested were "defending democracy." She said she doesn't intend to apologize and argued that her "blood on your hands" remark accurately reflected the stakes of such bans for transgender kids.

(Read more Montana stories.)

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