Zooey Zephyr: Montana Republicans accused of ‘destructive authoritarianism’ for barring trans lawmaker

Montana representative Zooey Zephyr speaks into a microphone about the impact of hateful legislation on the trans community in the state

The ‘silencing’ of Zooey Zephyr, Montana’ first trans state legislator, has been branded “absurd” and “anti-democratic”.

On Wednesday (26 April), Republicans voted to ban Zephyr from the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 legislative session. She will be allowed to vote remotely.

The trans politician has been targeted with censure calls since 18 April, when she told lawmakers who backed a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth they would have ‘blood on their hands’. 

House speaker Matt Regier had already silenced Zephyr, refusing to acknowledge her or let her speak in the chamber until she apologised.

This led to protests from constituents, some of whom were arrested for sharing their outrage in the House chamber. In response to being denied her ability to participate in debates, Zephyr said she remains “steadfast in [her] commitment to [her] community”.

Montana Republicans’ treatment of Zephyr has been thoroughly condemned by LGBTQ+ and trans advocates across the US. 

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Deirdre Schifeling, national political director at the ACLU, said there’s a “name for when elected officials attack and silence other elected officials they don’t agree with to prevent them from fulfilling their duties” – “authoritarianism”. 

“Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy,” Schifeling said. “Trans people are an essential part of our democracy — both as voters and lawmakers — and must be defended.”

Elliot Imse, executive director of LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, said it’s “destructive and absurd” for anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers to “launch a verbal and legislative war” against trans people and “censure the state’s only trans lawmaker for telling the truth”. 

Imse said Zephy’s comments were “incomparable” to the “undeniable harm” the proposed trans healthcare ban would have on the community, and to the “harmful and hateful rhetoric” pushed by anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers 

“Rep Zephyr’s voice is needed more than ever at this moment and her opponents understand that,” he said. “It is the reason they are determined to silence her.”

Trans state representative Zooey Zephyr holds up a microphone as she stands in the Montana state House
LGBTQ+ advocates have condemned the Montana House for censuring trans state representative Zooey Zephyr. (YouTube/MSNBC)

Keegan Medrano, policy director of the ACLU of Montana, called the move an “anti-democratic effort by House leadership to censor one of their own colleagues for using her voice and platform to represent her constituents”. 

“In voting to take away her microphone, the House is attempting to silence Montanans and trans people from speaking to the harm of all these bills,” Medrano said.

“This is another shameful day in our state’s history and we’re determined to protect every transgender Montanans from these vile, bigoted attacks on their dignity and equality.”

Why has the Montana House barred Zooey Zephyr?

Zooey Zephyr gave a passionate speech on 18 April against a bill that would ban trans healthcare.

She said that Montana Senate Bill 99, also known as the Provide for a Youth Health Protection Act, would be “tantamount to torture”.

Montana Republicans demanded she be censured, on 20 April the house voted to uphold an order by the speaker to refuse to allow her to speak. On Wednesday (26 April), they followed up with a measure banning her from the statehouse.

The move to bar Zephyr is part of an effort by increasingly aggressive and conservative politicians who want to silence dissenting voices in the US. 

Just a few weeks ago, Tennessee Republicans voted to expel two Black lawmakers – representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson – for participating in a gun violence protest on the chamber floor shortly after a school shooting in Nashville.

Representative Gloria Johnson, a white woman who also participated in the protest, wasn’t expelled, however, because Republicans claimed her role was less disruptive.

Both Jones and Pearson were later reinstated, and the ‘Tennessee Three’, as they’ve been dubbed, met with president Joe Biden Monday (24 April) to discuss gun control reform

In March, Republicans in Oklahoma voted to censure representative Mauree Turner – a Black, Muslim, non-binary state legislator – after state troopers said the Democrat blocked them from questioning a trans rights activist accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest over a gender-affirming healthcare ban.