Zooey Zephyr – a trans Democratic US lawmaker – was banned from speaking in the Montana statehouse on 18 April. This came after she told Republicans they would have “blood on their hands” if they ban gender-affirming care in the conservative state.
Later, on 26 April, Republican lawmakers went one step further, and voted to bar her from the assembly chamber altogether.
Zephyr – speaking out
Zephyr, the state’s first transgender representative, told colleagues:
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 objected to the remark, and later misgendered Zephyr in a statement on Twitter. The Freedom House Caucus wrote:
Our caucus is calling for the immediate censure of transgender Rep. Zooey Zephyr after [she] made threatening and deeply concerning comments on the House floor earlier today.
The House’s Republican speaker, Matt Regier, on 20 April refused to call on Zephyr in debates. He said that she would not be allowed to speak until she apologises.
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A vote along party lines on 21 April upheld the move. Republicans dominate the legislature, with 68 of the 100 seats:
Transgender Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr was again prevented from taking part in debate over a measure banning gender-affirming care for minors as her supporters brought the House session to a halt — chanting “Let her speak!” from the gallery. https://t.co/J6SGW8BJZy pic.twitter.com/GlEZFoFYHb
— ABC News (@ABC) April 25, 2023
The bill, which was ultimately passed, bans transgender minors in the state from receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy. This is in spite of puberty blocking being proven to decrease suicidality in trans youth.
‘Blood on your hands’
Commentators have stated that Zephyr’s words were not out of line with what would normally take place within the assembly chamber. For example, Professor Jennifer Mercieca – political scholar at Texas A&M University – stated:
The phrase ‘there’s blood on your hands’ is not necessarily that controversial… It’s not necessarily an insult. It doesn’t cross the line. In fact, it’s a polite way of saying that there are consequences to these decisions.
Likewise, the governor of Texas, a Florida Republican congressman, and a Denver councilwoman all recently used the phrase word-for-word without censure.
Indeed, Lou Barletta – a former Republican Pennsylvania congressman – used the phrase against the state’s Democratic governor regarding nursing homes. Referring to Zephyr’s situation, he said:
I don’t remember until now that there’s been a controversy over that cliche. I’ve never had anyone make a huge issue out of it.
Rather, Zephyr’s punishment appears to be an increasingly common example of the censure of minority lawmakers for speaking out in the US.
Later on 26 April, the Republicans barred Zephyr from the assembly chamber altogether. The new punishment means Zephyr can only participate in debates remotely. In fact, she has been performing her duties from immediately outside the chamber:
Not content with booting Rep Zephyr from the floor, they tried to remove her from the hallway bench that leads to the floor.
She is not banned from that bench. They relented.
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) April 27, 2023
Zephyr was allowed to speak on the motion to eject her from the chamber. In a defiant speech, she stated that her removal was an assault on democracy and an affront to the transgender community.
She told the chamber:
When I rose up and said there is blood on your hands, I was not being hyperbolic.
She also invoked the attempted suicide of a transgender person while watching a Montana statehouse debate on limiting transgender rights.
The speaker of the house continued to demand an apology for the blood-on-your-hands comment. However, Zephyr said it was an attempt to silence her. She also added that it would make her complicit in legislation that causes real-world harm:
I refuse to do so. And I will always refuse to do so. I would also say that if you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then all you’re doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Zephyr’s suspension, calling it “authoritarianism”.
Deirdre Schifeling, National Political Director at the ACLU, said:
Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy. Trans people are an essential part of our democracy — both as voters and lawmakers — and must be defended.
The ban on treatment for minors joins the 29 new laws passed since January alone restricting the rights of transgender people in 14 US states. This was according to an analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union published by the Washington Post.
Furthermore, Zephyr’s ban came just weeks after two Black Democrats were kicked out of the Tennessee legislature after demonstrating against what they said was Republican complicity in gun violence. Speaking to MSNBC, Justin Jones – one of the expelled representatives – offered his solidarity with Zephyr:
Congressman @RepMaxwellFrost: expelling state reps "has nothing to do with decorum and everything with keeping in the systems that have kept the three of us, and people who look like us and are us, for generations out of positions of power." pic.twitter.com/ogvQ1QLA80
— Ari Drennen (@AriDrennen) April 27, 2023
For all that trans-hostile voices frequently claim that they are being silenced when it comes to the ‘trans debate’, what is happening to Zephyr is an example of true silencing in action. She is the victim of the unequal application of Republican power and authority, used very literally to deny her a voice.
It is not a coincidence that Zephyr was the first openly trans lawmaker in the state of Montana. Due to her position, she spoke out passionately against a transphobic bill. The Republican reaction to her words was proportionate to their power, but by no means in line with their lack of “decorum”.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
Featured image via YouTube screenshot – the TelegraphSupport us and go ad-free
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