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Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s First Trans Lawmaker, Speaks Out After Being Banned & Silenced by Republicans

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The Republican-controlled Montana House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure the state’s first and only openly transgender lawmaker, Zooey Zephyr, banning her from the House floor and forbidding her from speaking, a week after Zephyr delivered a searing condemnation of a bill that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for youth. Zephyr will only be able to cast votes remotely for the remainder of the legislative session. We speak to Zephyr about the spate of anti-trans bills that target trans youth across the country and how “far-right” legislatures like Montana’s are attempting to “silence those who are holding them accountable.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Montana, where the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure the state’s first and only openly transgender lawmaker, Zooey Zephyr, banning her from the House floor and forbidding her from speaking during floor sessions. Zephyr will only be able to cast votes remotely for the remainder of the legislative session. The move comes a week after Representative Zephyr delivered a searing condemnation of a bill that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for youth.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: If you disallow the use of the medical care that is accepted by every major medical association, if you disallow that care and don’t allow people to have access to that, the only therapy left is either, A, meaningless or, B, conversion therapy, which is torture. … If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture. And this body should be ashamed. And if you vote yes on this amendment and yes on this bill … 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.

AMY GOODMAN: After this speech, Republican lawmakers in Montana moved to censure Zooey Zephyr. Ahead of the vote to ban her from the House floor, she addressed her fellow lawmakers again.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: Today I rise in defense of those constituents, of my community and of democracy itself. Last week, I spoke on the governor’s amendments to Senate Bill 99, which banned gender-affirming care. This was a bill that was targeting the LGBTQ community in Montana. This Legislature has systematically attacked that community. We have seen bills targeting our art forms, our books, our history and our healthcare. And I rose up in defense of my community that day, speaking to harms that these bills bring and that I have firsthand experience knowing about. I have had friends who have taken their lives because of these bills. I have fielded calls from families in Montana, including one family whose trans teenager attempted to take her life while watching a hearing on one of the anti-trans bills. …

So, when I rose up and said there is blood on your hands, I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we, as legislators, take in this body. And when the speaker asks me to apologize on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed. He is asking me to be complicit in this Legislature’s eradication of our community. And I refuse to do so, and I will always refuse to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: That was state Representative Zooey Zephyr, Montana’s first and only openly transgender lawmaker. The Republican-led Montana Legislature has voted to ban her from the House floor and has forbid her from speaking there.

Well, Zooey Zephyr is refusing to stay silent and joins us now from Montana’s capital, Helena, Montana.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, state Representative Zooey Zephyr. You represent Missoula, a place that’s very close to my heart. My first college roommate was from Missoula. Her dad was the bandleader at Hellgate High. Talk about what happened on the House floor and your response to the censure, saying you cannot speak in the House of Representatives from the floor.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: What we saw in the vote to censure me was inherently undemocratic. When the speaker had been refusing to recognize me for my comments on Senate Bill 99, he was taking away the voice of the Montanans who elected me to speak on their behalf. And when those community members showed up in protest and said, “Let her speak! Let her speak!” and he gaveled them down, he was continuing that process of silencing the people who sent me there to represent them.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what this anti-trans bill is, why you so fiercely objected to it.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: The bill we were looking at bans gender-affirming care for trans youth in the state of Montana. And that begins with something as simple as social transitioning. That’s what the earliest form of gender-affirming care is, which is letting someone grow their hair out or cut it short, to go by a different name, etc. And this bill banned the use of state property for advocating for anything like that. As you get older, it looks like going on puberty blockers. Again, and this healthcare is done slowly, carefully, in conjunction with the child, the parent, endocrinologists, health practitioners, following best practices by every major medical association. And so, when you’re looking at bills that take that necessary care away, what you’re looking at is things that make the conditions for trans people impossible in our state.

AMY GOODMAN: The motion to censure you was introduced by the Montana House Majority Leader Representative Sue Vinton, a Republican from Billings, Montana. This is what she said about you Wednesday ahead of the vote.

MAJORITY LEADER SUE VINTON: Every member of a legislature is presumed to be the equal of each member, and each has rights that must be respected. The rights of the minority and the majority both must be protected. Freedom in this body involves obedience to all the rules of this body, including the rules of decorum. … Monday, this body witnessed one of its members participating in conduct that disrupted and disturbed the orderly proceedings of this body. This member did not accede to the order of the speaker to come to order and, finally, to clear the floor, and instead encouraged the continuation of the disruption of this body.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to Vinton’s comments?

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: So, when we talk about every member being equal to one another, it’s important to note the way that they are applying the rules of decorum unequally. We have had legislators who have screamed in their closing. We have legislators who insinuated that my very existence is somehow sexualizing children. And we objected in the moment, and then we moved on. Decorum rules weren’t used. There were hearings where we begged the Republican chairs not to allow harmful, discriminatory language, and they said, “A lot of people have a lot of opinions. We’ll carry on.” So what you’re seeing here is a Republican-controlled legislature using a tool like decorum as a way to silence those who are holding them accountable for the very real harm that their bills bring.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to understand what’s happening to you right now, you were sitting in a hallway trying to work Thursday — you had been banned from the House floor — and they tried to kick you out of the hallway, as well? Can you talk about the Montana Freedom Caucus, which called for your immediate censure, who also deliberately misgendered you in a statement they wrote?

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: So, much like the unequal and hypocritical ways decorum has been enforced, I’m not surprised that the Freedom Caucus would misgender me in the same moment that they call for civility in discourse. It’s a caucus that calls for limited government, while simultaneously using government to take away necessary and life-saving healthcare for people in my community.

And I sat down Thursday. I walked in, and I said, “I want to be as close to the People’s House as I can be, so I can speak to legislators, so that even despite the fact that my voice and the voice of my constituents isn’t allowed on the floor, I can do everything in my power to make sure their voice is heard.”

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your decision, state Representative Zephyr, to run for office, and the significance with you being the only, the first transgender lawmaker in Montana.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: So, I testified last session, in 2021, and as I was testifying on a trans sports ban, I saw that the people listening on the panels didn’t seem to want to hear. And then I watched votes on anti-trans legislation pass by a single vote. And I thought, “I need to be in that room.” You need representation in that room if you’re ever going to be able to move the needle. And so, I was happy to run, go through my community, where I’ve lived and walked through and spend all of my time, and they were gracious enough to elect me. And I’m happy to serve in Montana alongside Representative SJ Howell, who’s the first — the state’s first nonbinary representative.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about the other anti-trans and bills targeting the LGBTQ community that are going through the Montana Legislature, and then talk about where the governor stands.

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: So, we’re seeing an array of bills targeting the LGBTQ community, and particularly the trans community. We’ve seen books that are trying — or, we’ve seen bills that are trying to ban our books under the guise of obscenity laws. We’ve seen bills that are trying to ban our art forms under the anti-drag laws. We’ve seen bills that tell students they’re allowed to misgender people. We’ve seen bills that say trans people don’t get healthcare, and even if they have access to healthcare, medical practitioners who don’t want to provide it can just ignore you for any reason.

And these bills, again, as I mentioned, began with the sports bans. And so we’re seeing the moment people got a foot in the door, saying, “Oh, trans equality has limitations” — they put an asterisk on that — soon as that got in, they started escalating the attacks, which is what we’re seeing in Montana and across the country, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And Governor Gianforte, whose own son, David, is nonbinary, who’s lobbied his dad to reject the series of bills attacking the trans community?

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: You know, I have not had direct contact with the Governor’s Office on these bills. I have spoke to folks in his staff about these bills and how they’re harmful policy, how they hurt our community, and how, quite frankly, communities in Montana do not want this.

And so, one of the things it’s important to remember is that trans people, we live lives full of joy. We walk through and are a part of our communities. And so, whether you’re working a day job in an office or you’re the governor of the state of Montana, you are never far from someone who is trans or nonbinary and worthy of love.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you about what happened in Nebraska, Democratic state Senator Megan Hunt facing a so-called conflict of interest investigation after a right-wing lawmaker complained she didn’t officially disclose that she had a transgender child before voting against a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. She is saying that the probe is “harassment.”

REP. ZOOEY ZEPHYR: I think that, much like Tennessee, much like here, much like Representative Mauree Turner in Oklahoma, what you’re seeing is far-right legislatures are passing policies, are bringing policies forward, that are incredibly harmful, get marginalized communities hurt and killed. And those communities and the people that care about those communities are beginning to rise up and say, “This isn’t acceptable. This isn’t something we can stand for.” And we’re holding them accountable to the real harm that these bills do.

And obviously, the attacks on Senator Hunt are harassment. You wouldn’t expect every time a bill on public education came up, someone to disclose that their child went to a public school. This is targeting in a way much like decorum was used against me. They are looking for processes and procedures in the rulebook that they can use to justify silencing and targeting someone for standing up for vulnerable communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Montana state Representative Zooey Zephyr, we are going to break and then come back, and we’re going to invite Justin Jones into this conversation. I am wondering if they decided to simply ban you from the floor — that’s not hardly “simply,” but — and not expel you entirely, precisely of what happened to the Justins in Tennessee, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson of Memphis and Nashville, because they were reinstated by their communities. We’ll be back with Democratic Montana state Representative Zooey Zephyr in a moment, will be joined by Tennessee state Representative Justin Jones. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Try to Remember” by Harry Belafonte. He died at his home of congestive heart failure Tuesday here in New York at the age of 96. To see all of our interviews with him over the years, go to democracynow.org.

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