Helena, Mont. — Defying criticism that they had silenced Montana's only transgender lawmaker, Republican leaders abruptly canceled a House of Representatives session Tuesday, a day after a heated protest led to arrests in the House chamber.
In a brief press conference, Speaker Matt Regier blamed lawmaker Representative Zooey Zephyr for the impasse, saying he was not following House rules. “The only people who silence Representative Zephyr are Representative Zephyr,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Ms. Zephyr shared what it turned out to be a letter from the chairman of the DPR announced a motion for Wednesday afternoon to decide “whether to impose disciplinary consequences” for his actions, according to the letter.
“I have been told that during tomorrow's floor session there will be a motion to censure or expel me. I was also told that I would get a chance to speak,” said Ms. Zephyr, who had not been allowed to do so in the last few days.
The increasingly tense confrontation started last Tuesday, when Ms. Zephyr, a first-term Democrat representing Missoula, made an impassioned speech on the House floor, telling colleagues that a vote to outlaw transitional care for minors would leave “blood on your hands.”
Conservative lawmakers condemned him for “hate rhetoric”, and Mr Regier said he would not allow him to speak on the House floor until he apologized.
Ms Zephyr called the Republicans' actions anti-democratic, and remained opposed in an interview on Tuesday. “I will do everything I can to make sure the voices of the Montanans who voted for me are heard,” he said. “It is up to the speaker if he wishes to acknowledge me as the elected representative.”
The clashes led to protests on the Capitol steps on Monday, and supporters of Ms. Zephyr thronged the DPR gallery, shouting “Let him speak!” When Ms. Zephyr stood up and held his microphone in the air, Mr. Regier ordered the gallery cleared, and police officers entered with batons and face shields. Seven people were arrested.
“I am dedicated to those who rise up to defend democracy,” said Ms. Zephyr in a tweet following the arrests on Monday, while Republican leaders issued a statement calling the action in the House chamber a “riot by left-wing agitators.”
Montana is one of several states where Republican lawmakers this year are seeking to outlaw hormone treatment and surgical treatment of transgender minors. About 1.3 million US adults and 300,000 children identify as transgender, and efforts to curtail what are known as gender-affirming treatments have thrust them into one of the country's fiercest political battles.
Republican legislators characterized transitional treatment as dangerous and experimental, saying that children and young people are not mature enough to make permanent decisions. But major medical organizations, incl American Academy of Pediatricssupport this treatment, and say that the ban poses a serious mental health risk to young people, violating not only their rights but also the rights of doctors and parents.
This year, 11 states have passed laws banning such treatment for young people. Previously, only three state legislatures had enforced a full or partial ban. The state's barrage of laws are part of a long-running campaign by a nationally conservative organization that sees transgender rights as an issue where they can capitalize on the ire of some voters, and raise money.
Some of those legislatures have to debate the bill with transgender MPs as members. That may be changing, if slowly: Over the past few years, more and more LGBTQ people have run for and won elections. The number of transgender and nonbinary people openly elected to public office increased to at least 70 this year, from 25 in 2019, according to the report. LGBTQ+ Victory Fundsupporting the candidate.
Danica Roem, a Virginia lawmaker who in 2018 became the nation's first transgender state legislator, says the number of bills on transgender issues introduced in her state this year is unmatched by anything she's seen during her time in office. But he added that he was now serving his third term – and had also watched transgender candidates in other states win elections.
Ms Zephyr, 34, said she ran on a campaign platform for affordable housing, health care, human rights and climate justice. But it was his dispute with Republican lawmakers over transgender issues that quickly raised his profile.
“When you willfully silence representatives of any party,” said Ms. Roem, a Virginia member of parliament, “but especially someone who speaks passionately about issues that directly affect them, and the communities they come from — what you're bound to experience. do is, you raise their profile.”
He pointed to the two Democrats who were kicked out by their fellow Republicans in Tennessee for leading a gun control protest on the House floor. Lawmakers Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, who are both black, have been reinstated — but their expulsion rocked state politics and intensified the debate over race and representation.
Republicans in Montana have denied trying to silence Ms. Zephyr, characterized its criticism of their support for a ban on transitional care for minors as “hateful rhetoric” that could lead to violence. In a letter last week that misrepresented Ms. Zephyr uses male pronouns, the Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, called for him to be censured.
The Montana law that Ms. Zephyr has majority support in the House and Senate. It was expected to be signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte, a Republican, who called the gender-affirming treatment a misleading term and compared it to “Orwellian newspaper language”.
Lawmakers in Montana are also considering other legislation related to transgender issues, including an upcoming bill defines sex as binary in the country code depending on whether one produces eggs or sperm, and anything else that will limit when students can change names and pronouns they use at school.
Ms. Zephyr went unrecognized during the debate over the two bills.
Francesca Paris, Ernesto Londono And Remy Tumin reporting contribution.