Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the state's first transgender lawmaker, was barred by the Republican-controlled House from participating on the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 session. Zephyr, who will be allowed to vote on legislation remotely, called the decision "a disturbing affront to democracy" and vowed to stay committed to serving her community.
Who is Zooey Zephyr?
Zephyr, 34, ran for office in 2022, describing herself as a "progressive, bisexual trans woman" who wanted to run because she believes the best way "to fight for social and economic justice is to get into the room where the laws are being written."
She went on to win the election with 79.3% of the vote and assumed office in January, representing Montana's 100th House district, which includes the city of Missoula.
Zephyr was born in Billings, Montana, and later attended University of Washington but returned to her home state as a grad student and then staff member at the University of Montana. Zephyr worked in the university's biology department and later provost's office and worked to bring diversity, equity and inclusion to the school's faculty. She also played video games competitively, according to one of her tweets.
Zephyr ran on a platform of fighting for human rights, including voting and trans rights and prison reform, according to her website. She said she planned to focus on the areas where Montana is failing – housing inequality, health care, infrastructure and climate change.
Why was she disciplined?
In recent months, Zephyr says, the legislature "launched a relentless assault on the LGBTQ+ community" by introducing legislation that would undermine the community. She opposed a bill that would ban performances by drag queens – similar to one introduced in Tennessee – and one that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth, saying lawmakers would have "blood on their hands" if they supported the bill.
She refused to apologize for the comments and during a debate last week, Speaker Matt Regier refused to acknowledge her, saying he is tasked with maintaining decorum on the House floor and any lawmaker he feels will disrupt that will not be recognized.
Reiger not only ignored Zephyr while the House debated a bill that would put a binary definition of male and female into state code, he also refused to recognize her during other debates, she said. Lawmakers also misgendered Zephyr several times.
The House GOP sought disciplinary consequences for Zephyr and voted to ban her from in-person debates and voting on April 26, sparking protests from her supporters. The decision was also condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.
In a statement posted on social media afterward, Zephyr said she has been stripped of the ability to represent her 11,000 constituents in debate. Still, she vowed to continue serving her community and "tirelessly advocate for democracy in the state of Montana."