Trans Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr punished by Montana Republicans : NPR
Shaylee Ragar/Montana Public Radio
HELENA, Mont. – Republicans, who dominate the Montana House of Representatives, voted Wednesday to formally punish Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
Zephyr, who is transgender, has been blocked from speaking since last Tuesday when she told supporters of a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors that she hoped would see “the blood on [their] hands.” There, she was making reference to studies showing that transgender health care can reduce suicide in young people.
The formal punishment decided on Wednesday prohibits Zephyr from attending or speaking during floor sessions. She will only be allowed to vote remotely in the remaining days of the legislative session. It is a lesser punishment than dismissal, which was also on the table according to the leadership of the Chamber.
“If you use decorum to silence the people who hold you accountable, all you’re doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression,” Zephyr said during the debate Wednesday.
The Montana controversy comes about three weeks after the Tennessee House voted to expel state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson for using a megaphone on the floor during a gun reform protest. Both Jones and Pearson were reinstated by local councils soon after.
On Monday, seven people were arrested during a demonstration in the balcony of the House in protest that Zephyr was blocked from speaking for three consecutive days. Republican leaders condemned the events as a “revolt.”
House Speaker Matt Regier says Zephyr, the first transgender woman elected to office, broke house rules during a debate on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. He said she will be blocked from speaking on the floor unless she apologizes.
Zephyr says she stands by her comments. In an announcement, Republican leaders cited the section of the Montana Constitution that gives the Legislature authority to “dismiss or punish a member for good cause” by a two-thirds majority vote. The Republicans have such a supermajority in the House.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott says her caucus will hold Republicans accountable for their “anti-democratic agenda.” The public gallery will be closed for Wednesday’s proceedings when the House will vote on whether to discipline Zephyr.
Members are still under a strict deadline. The Montana Constitution says it must adjourn in eight days, and they have yet to finish putting together a budget, typically their most important task.