Missoula Democrat Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman, has been banned from the floor of the Montana House of Representatives following a Wednesday action by the Republican leadership.
The House on Wednesday took up the vote to discipline Zephyr, which passed 68 to 32. A two-thirds vote was required to approve the motion.
The motion that was approved on Wednesday bars Zephyr from appearing on the House floor as well as in the House gallery for the remainder of the legislative session. Zephyr will be allowed to vote remotely.
Zephyr has not been allowed to speak on the floor since last week. Republicans objected after she said lawmakers who voted for Senate Bill 99 — a ban on gender-affirming medical procedures for transgender youth — should be ashamed and would have "blood on [their] hands."
Since then, Speaker of the House Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, has said he has concerns that Zephyr wouldn't maintain decorum if he called on her, and he has refused to recognize her on the floor. He has pointed to rules that give the speaker the final say on questions of recognition.
Regier told MTN Zephyr would be allowed to speak again once she regained "trust" and apologized for her statements.
On Monday, demonstrators shouted and chanted from the gallery to protest the House Speaker's decision not to recognize Zephyr to speak on the floor. Supporters of Zephyr say Regier was effectively "silencing" her and depriving the people she represents of a voice in the House.
The House Gallery was cleared due to the protest, and seven people were arrested for refusing to leave.
Outside the Capitol building Zephyr addressed supporters and members of the media.
"What you heard today is people standing for democracy, people standing to let their voices be heard on that floor," Zephyr told Scripps News. "What you're watching here is you're watching people who do not want to see democracy in action. They want to strip us of our rights. And it's not enough for them to get the harmful bills through. When someone stands up and calls out their bills for the harm they cause, for the deaths they cause, they want silence. And we will not be complicit in our eradication."
One day after the protest the House Floor Session was canceled. During a press briefing, Regier pushed back on allegations of "silencing" Zephyr and expressed issues with media coverage of the situation.
"The entire story was not told," Regier told reporters on Tuesday. "Headlines that have happened over the last week stating that the Montana House leadership or GOP has silenced anyone is false. Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debate while following the House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made. The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr."
House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said the Monday protest was not violent, and she disagreed with conservative voices describing it as a “riot.” She doesn’t believe the rules have been enforced consistently throughout the session, and she called the speaker’s actions extreme.
"I think Montanans know what's fair and what's not fair," Abbott told MTN on Tuesday. "And what we've seen is a duly elected public official not being recognized on the floor to engage in free debate — that disenfranchises her community, her constituents. The fact that this is the first trans woman who's been elected to the body and she's been silenced on issues directly impacting the trans community is also deeply disturbing to Montana Democrats."
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