MISSOULA - A Montana House rules committee upheld a decision by the Montana Speaker of the House to not allow Representative Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula) to talk on the House floor on Thursday.
The decision comes after comments Zephyr, a transgender woman, made earlier this week about Senate Bill 99, which restricts healthcare for transgender youth.
The House was debating amendments to the bill offered by Governor Greg Gianforte. While speaking Tuesday, Zephyr told lawmakers they should be ashamed if they pass the amendments.
Republican Majority Leader Sue Vinton of Billings stood up to say the body would not be shamed into voting a certain way. Zephyr then replied to the comments.
"Then the only thing I will say is that 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," she said.
Speaker of the House Matt Regier (R-Kalispell) said he had concerns Zephyr would maintain decorum if he called on her, following her comments on Tuesday. So, on Thursday, he decided not to recognize her.
Zephyr says she was not informed of the Speaker's intention to not recognize her until Wednesday evening, when he pulled her for a conversation.
Regier’s decision occurred when the House was debating Senate Bill 458 which would define sex in Montana law based on a person’s reproductive system.
The legislature’s Democratic members then objected which caused the House Rules Committee to convene to decide if Regier had the authority to ignore Zephyr. The Committee voted 15-to-7 along party lines to uphold Regier’s decision.
During an interview with MTN reporter Claire Peterson, Regier said Zephyr will be allowed to speak once she regains "trust" and apologizes.
We also asked him what specifically about her comments led to his decision to restrict her while the House was discussing Senate Bill 458 and what Regier would say to critics that are saying he’s silencing Zephyr on issues that she has personal experience with.
"I'm not silencing anybody. So, there's a path forward. It's in the rules to acknowledge recognition or not. Once again, anybody – any representative – that wants to debate within the decorum and within that integrity and dignity of the House, that the Montana House is accustomed to, I'm gonna recognize them,” Regier told MTN News.
Watch the extended interview with Representative Speaker of the House Matt Regier below.
Zephyr talked with us about her restriction and said everyone in the House has different backgrounds and opinions and was elected for a reason. She added that given her background as a trans woman she was confused as to why her voice wasn't listened to for this particular debate.
Watch the extended interview with Representative Zooey Zephyr below.
"Each of us were sent here by our constituents to engage in that debate and we deserve access to participating in that debate,” Zephyr said. “So, it's telling the speaker chose this moment — and me particularly as a representative — to wield his authority to ignore a member of the House of Representatives whereas we've heard other controversial statements or other statements that people disagreed with. He did not choose those moments."
The Montana Freedom Caucus had published a release Tuesday evening saying Zephyr used inappropriate and hateful language. Caucus members called for her censure while also misgendering her.
Our Caucus is calling for the immediate censure of transgender Rep. Zooey Zephyr after his threatening and deeply concerning comments on the House floor earlier today. #mtpol pic.twitter.com/fDggbLKsJS
— Montana Freedom Caucus (@MTFreedomCaucus) April 19, 2023
The Montana Democratic Party sent out a statement on Thursday that says in part, “Targeting and intentionally misgendering the first openly transgender woman legislator in Montana is beneath the office our legislators hold."
Read the full statement below.
“Targeting and intentionally misgendering the first openly transgender woman legislator in Montana is beneath the office our legislators hold. It's another cruel and weak attempt by extremist Republicans to distract Montanans from their failure to pass any meaningful legislation for working families across the state.” - Montana Democratic Party Executive Director Sheila Hogan
The Montana American Indian Caucus also released a statement following Thursday’s actions.
“In response to the recent treatment of Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula), the first trans woman to be elected to the Montana Legislature, we as members of the Montana American Indian Caucus condemn both the Montana Freedom Caucus, in calling for the censure of Rep. Zephyr, and the Speaker of House, for refusing to recognize her to speak on the floor to SB 458.
“Rep. Zephyr was speaking up for the Montana trans, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit community. This community has been ignored by lawmakers as the Legislature continues to pass laws that spread disinformation and fear, prevent them from receiving life-saving health care, ban their self-expression, and erase them from all public life.
“It is our conviction that Rep. Zephyr’s statement was not only within the boundaries of legislative decorum, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Montana Constitution, but also within the boundaries of truth – bringing to the Legislature a voice for the voiceless and making noise where the Montana Freedom Caucus would prefer silence.
“We further believe the effort to silence Rep. Zephyr is consistent with an emerging pattern. This session, members of the Montana Freedom Caucus have aimed to create an environment that is hostile to all opposing views, using inflammatory rhetoric while weaponizing religion and law to create a Montana aligned with their ideology.
“The Montana American Indian Caucus, in representing a people that has endured a long history of discrimination, therefore strongly denounces the call to censure Rep. Zephyr. We stand in solidarity with Rep. Zooey Zephyr and trans, nonbinary, and Two Spirit Montanans.” - Montana American Indian Caucus
Missoula County Commissioners Josh Slotnick, Juanita Vero and Dave Strohmaier and Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess issued the following statement on Friday in support of Zephyr:
"Recent actions taken to silence Rep. Zooey Zephyr are unacceptable and undemocratic. We support Rep. Zephyr and her commitment to speaking for her 11,000 constituents in Missoula County. Laws this Legislature has passed will deprive Montanans of their rights. Rep. Zephyr has boldly stood up for all Montanans, including the LGBTQ+ community, and we stand with her. Some lawmakers, under the guise of "decorum," have demonstrated a cruel disdain for Rep. Zephyr's humanity. These types of actions have no place in a democracy, as real democracy demands the free exchange of ideas, with full participation for all. We stand with Rep. Zephyr and condemn this attempt to silence a duly elected official speaking on behalf of her constituents."