By Gabriel Neuman, GSBA Policy Counsel and Goverment Relations Manager
When the LGBTQ+ community gets attacked, we come back stronger than ever, as evidenced by the wave of support that is flowing toward Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr after her expulsion from the House floor.
Zephyr, a transgender Democrat representing Missoula, has her educational roots in Seattle. She graduated from the University of Washington with a dual Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Creative Writing. Zephyr later became involved in activism in 2020 when she testified before the Montana legislature in defense of LGBT+ rights and met with Republican Governor Greg Gianforte. Feeling her words were not heard, Zephyr decided to “get into the room where the laws are being written.” She won House District 100 (Missoula) in the 2022 mid-term elections.
Last month, Zephyr was silenced and barred from speaking on the House floor by state Republicans. Her crime? Representing her transgender constituents. As Representatives considered a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, Zephyr reminded her colleagues that the potential risk of denying care can involve self-harm or death, stating that those who supported the ban had “blood on [their] hands.” Republicans subsequently silenced Zephyr from participating in floor debates. Days later, authorities arrested demonstrators from the floor of the Montana House as Zephyr stood with her mic aloft to pick up their chants. House Majority Leader Sue Vinton responded by introducing a motion to dismiss Zephyr, accusing her of placing others at risk of harm.
Supporters were quick to respond, filing a lawsuit on behalf of Zephyr and several constituents who the attorneys said are being denied their right to adequate representation. “Every minute matters,” Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and one of Zephyr’s attorneys told NPR. “Without Zephyr having her full rights and privileges restored, her 11,000 constituents are voiceless when it comes to a budget bill that impacts every corner of Montana.” 
Republicans moved to further silo Zephyr by shutting down the two committees she serves on and moving their bills to other committees. She spent her first day of exile battling to use a bench in the Statehouse hallway, as her key card access to Capitol entrances, bathrooms, and party workspaces was deactivated.
Zephyr’s censureship is an example of the alarming trend of state Republicans attempting to block democratically elected candidates, largely those who are young, trans, and/or Black. It echoes an event just a few weeks earlier in Tennessee, where Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson–both of whom support LGBTQ+ rights in the state—were expelled from their state legislature over protests of gun violence. Earlier this year, Oklahoma Rep. Mauree Turner, the state’s only nonbinary representative, was censured in their state after allowing someone into their office who had protested the state’s ban on gender-affirming care.
“With these censures, it sends a message that these aren’t our houses; we might have been elected by our people to come and serve and represent, but that we don’t have a place here, that our voices shouldn’t be heard here.” Turner told Teen Vogue.
Censureship is often done under the guise of promoting “decorum.” The vague term, used when attempting to determine what is considered appropriate behavior in the legislature, is often weaponized against marginalized communities to dismiss their testimony. Turner notes, “they are writing policy that will eradicate communities. This is what they are looking for: authoritarian rule and an eradication of life. And you’re worried about folks speaking up? That’s not decorum for you?” It is not uncommon for legislators debating heated issues like abortion or gun control rights to use the term “blood on your hands” against opponents. Using the term to support trans youth, however, is a step too far for Republicans in the Montana State House.
Zephyr’s attorneys hope to get a ruling as quickly as possible so the Representative can get back to helping to shape the state’s budget.