Protesters erupt in Montana legislature over censuring of transgender lawmaker

by Jacob Fuller

Chris Lieberman, FISM News

Demonstrators threw Montana’s state House of Representatives into chaos Monday following a vote to silence a transgender lawmaker over his comments on a bill banning irreversible sex-change procedures for minors.

On Monday, Representatives voted 63-34 in favor of upholding House Speaker Matt Regier’s (R) decision not to allow Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D), a biological male who identifies as a woman, to speak on the House floor. Protesters watching the proceedings then erupted into chants of, “Let her speak!” as Zephyr held up a non-functioning microphone. Regier was forced to halt the session and call on law enforcement to clear the gallery when the demonstrators refused to come to order, leading to at least seven arrests.

The controversy began last Tuesday, when the legislature was debating the Youth Health Protection Act, a bill that would ban puberty blockers, hormonal treatments, and sex-reassignment surgeries for minors in Montana. Zephyr called the bill “tantamount to torture,” and told lawmakers, “The only thing I will say is 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.”

Republican lawmakers took exception to Zephyr’s comments, with the conservative Montana Freedom Caucus calling for his censure. On Thursday, Regier declined to recognize Zephyr, ruling that he had breached decorum rules and will not be allowed to speak on the house floor until he apologizes.

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D) objected to Regier’s ruling on the floor, claiming the Speaker had exceeded his authority. However, the House Rules Committee determined that House rules grant the Speaker broad latitude on who he can choose to recognize or not recognize.

Zephyr remained defiant and unapologetic. Before Monday’s session, Zephyr told supporters before entering the chamber, “I was sent here to speak on behalf of my constituents and to speak on behalf of my community. It’s the promise I made when I got elected and it’s a promise that I will continue to keep every single day.”

Zephyr’s attempt to speak during Monday’s debate on another bill that would enshrine the biological definition of sex into Montana law prompted the vote to uphold Regier’s ruling.

Montana Republicans condemned the scenes at the legislature Monday, saying in a statement,

Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff. Their actions did not represent Montana values. We want to thank our law enforcement for maintaining order and protecting the safety of everyone at the Capitol. House Leadership will stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order. We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena.

Zephyr lauded the protestors in his own statement, writing,

For the third consecutive day, I have been denied the opportunity to represent my constituents in the Montana legislature and to speak on their behalf. When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being disabled, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic right to be heard — and some were arrested in the process. I stood by them in solidarity and will continue to do so. As an elected representative, I am devoted to supporting those who speak in defense of democracy, as it is my duty to ensure their voices are heard and respected.

The scenes at the statehouse on Monday were reminiscent of demonstrators’ takeover of Tennessee’s State Capitol last month, leading to the expulsion of three Democrat lawmakers from the legislature.