As we continue to watch states expand their efforts to dehumanize queer people across the country via the introduction of over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, earlier this month we also witnessed the continued threat to silence the voices of our LGBTQ+ legislators, like Representative Zooey Zephyr.
Last year, Zephyr became the first openly transgender woman elected to the Montana state legislature. She is but one of the record number of openly LGBTQ+ legislators elected across the country in 2022. However, in April, the first-term Democrat was prohibited from speaking on the House floor after she refused to apologize for telling colleagues who supported a ban on gender-affirming care for youth, that they would have “blood on their hands.”
She recently challenged the decision by the two-thirds majority Republican legislative body, but after a district judge upheld the move, Representative Zephyr has been forced to work remotely from a bench directly outside of the House chambers.
A fierce advocate for trans equality, Zephyr remains focused and defiant. Since the Montana Legislature only convenes every two years, this unjust ruling means that barring an unforeseen special legislative session prior to 2025, Zephyr will not be allowed to represent her constituents from the House floor unless she is reelected next year.
“I wish we could say that Zooey’s story is a one-off. But it isn’t. It isn’t just about being trans – it is about anyone deemed to be ‘other,’” commented Judy Shepard. “Whether the ‘other’ is based on race, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, gender identity or even gender. The optics in too many legislatures is if the elected representative is not a straight, white, Christian male then they are not worthy of their office or the respect of their peers.”
Advocates for Zephyr have denounced her exclusion from the floor debates as an assault on free speech in an attempt to silence criticism of Montana Senate Bill 99, which effectively bans gender-affirming care for minors. Ironically, the bill was passed and eventually signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte just days after Zephyr was banished.
Yet, the fight continues. The ACLU of Montana has filed a lawsuit against the state challenging the censure of the Representative. In addition, Zephyr is committed to regaining her seat, tweeting, “… I’m ready to get back to the Montana State House of Representatives in 2025.” To learn more on how you can support Representative Zephyr, visit www.zooeyzephyr.com.