Montana House continues to deny trans lawmaker a voice

By Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown | Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — The latest high-profile example of state legislative leadership deciding who can be heard during statehouse debates is playing out in Montana where a transgender lawmaker was silenced by Republican leaders for a second day Friday.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who was deliberately referred to using male pronouns by conservative colleagues, says she won’t apologize for telling lawmakers they would have “blood on their hands” if they voted for a bill banning gender-affirming care. The measure has passed and is in the hands of the governor, who has indicated he will sign it.

Montana is among a wave of states passing legislation that opponents say could put transgender teens in jeopardy.

Montana’s House speaker said he won’t let Zephyr speak on the chamber floor until she apologizes.

Here’s what you need to know about the situation:


Last year, Zephyr became the first openly transgender woman elected to the Montana Legislature — putting her among a record number of transgender lawmakers who began serving across the U.S.The 34-year-old Democrat is from the left-leaning college town Missoula, where she’s been a staffer at the University of Montana. She has spent much of her life advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and worked behind the scenes during the 2021 legislative session to help block efforts to ban gender-affirming health care.

Following her November election, she expressed hope that her presence in the Legislature would help people understand what it means to be a trans adult. Zephyr also wanted to enlist moderate Republicans to push back on what she called “extreme and dangerous attacks.”

Instead, she and fellow members of the Democratic minority have been powerless to stop Republicans from passing bills to ban gender-affirming care for transgender children and another that says misgendering or deadnaming students is not illegal discrimination unless it rises to the level of bullying. Deadnaming refers to using the name a transgender person used prior to transitioning.


On Tuesday as the House was debating Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed amendments to a measure banning gender-affirming care for minors, Zephyr spoke up in reference to the body’s opening prayer.

“I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” she said.

House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, a Republican, immediately called Zephyr’s comments inappropriate and disrespectful. That evening, a group of conservative lawmakers known as the Montana Freedom Caucus demanded her censure and deliberately referred to Zephyr using male pronouns in their letter and a Tweet. That’s known as misgendering — using pronouns that don’t match a person’s gender identity.

Zephyr had upset legislative leaders with emotional testimony previously this session.

She made a similar “blood on your hands” comment the first time the House heard the bill and has also given emotional testimony indicating bills that attack LGBTQ+ rights will lead to suicide.

“When there are bills targeting the LGBTQ community, I stand up to defend my community,” Zephyr told The Associated Press after she was silenced Thursday. “And I choose my words with clarity and precision, and I spoke to the real harms that these bills bring.”

Montana Human Rights Network organizer Shawn Reagor said the act of misgendering Zephyr was disrespectful and would encourage physical violence against the trans community.

“The fact that this is happening by legislators in the Montana state Capitol is incredibly disturbing,” Reagor said.


Conservatives formed the Montana Freedom Caucus in January, and it includes at least 21 of the Legislature’s 102 GOP lawmakers.

Its ideological leader is U.S. Rep Matt Rosendale, a hardline conservative who backed former President Donald Trump’s false statements about fraud in the 2020 election and was among a core group of Republicans who opposed electing U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House.

The caucus members said Zephyr’s comments displayed a “hateful rhetoric” and called for a “commitment to civil discourse.”

Two days after the caucus’ letter, Speaker Matt Regier refused to allow Zephyr to speak against a bill Thursday that would put a binary definition of male and female into state code. She was blocked from speaking again Friday during discussion of a bill to prevent minors from seeing pornography online.

Regier said he silenced Zephyr after discussions with other lawmakers. Democrats objected, but the decision was upheld by Republican lawmakers on party-line votes both days.


Formally, no, but practically, yes.

A censure in the Montana Legislature is a public reprimand. The House did not go through that process. However, Regier used his authority under House rules to decide questions of order, privilege and recognition.


Not directly, but the dispute is emblematic of tensions and harsh rhetoric around culturally divisive issues — including firearms, racial justice and rights for the LGBTQ+ community — that are dominating much of America’s political discourse.

The Tennessee expulsions stemmed from a dispute over gun control. It drew accusations of racism after Republicans removed two Black lawmakers following their participation in a protest but retained a third lawmaker involved who was white.

This week alone, state legislatures advanced numerous measures aimed at the trans community.

Florida’s House passed bills on gender-transition treatments, bathroom use and keeping children out of drag shows. North Carolina lawmakers approved a ban on transgender athletes. And North Dakota’s governor signed a bill limiting trans health care.

Other measures have been stalled or blocked.

Kansas’s Democratic governor vetoed on Thursday bills restricting bathrooms for transgender people and gender-affirming care for minors, but GOP lawmakers appeared to have the votes to override her. Earlier this month in North Dakota, lawmakers failed to override the Republican governor’s veto of a bill that would have prohibited public school teachers and employees from acknowledging the pronouns a transgender student uses, unless they received permission from the student’s parents and an administrator.


Nobody knows for sure. Regier is expected to stick to his stance that Zephyr can’t speak on the floor until she apologizes. Zephyr has said she stands by her statements. It remains unknown if the conservative group will keep pushing for formal censure. The Montana Legislature is scheduled to end in early May.

Brown reported from Billings.