Watch CBS News

Transgender Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr disciplined for remainder of 2023 session

Transgender lawmaker censured by Montana House
Transgender Montana lawmaker censured by state House 02:06

The Republican-controlled Montana House voted Wednesday to discipline Democratic state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the state's first transgender lawmaker. Zephyr is barred from participating on the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 session, but will be allowed to vote remotely.

Zephyr had been prevented by Republicans from debating a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors after telling her colleagues that they would have blood on their hands if it passed. Her silencing led to protests from her constituents, seven of whom were arrested Monday while protesting in the House chamber. 

"When I rose up and said 'there is blood on your hands,' I was not being hyperbolic," Zephyr said while addressing the House before the disciplinary vote. "I was speaking to the real consequences of the votes that we, as legislators, take in this body. And when the speaker asks me to apologize on behalf of decorum, what he is really asking me to do is be silent when my community is facing bills that get us killed." 

House Speaker Matt Regier did not make a speech Wednesday, but he had previously said that the protests were a "dark day" and that "the only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. The Montana House will not be bullied. All 100 representatives will continue to be treated the same." 

Following the Monday protests, the House did not meet Tuesday after Regier abruptly canceled the scheduled session.    

Since her initial remarks, several Republican lawmakers have repeatedly misgendered Zephyr, including in a letter from the Montana Freedom Caucus sent last week demanding her censure. The letter, signed by 21 members of the House, said she should be punished "for trying to shame the Montana legislative body and by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate."

"When the speaker disallowed me to speak, what he was doing is taking away the voices of the 11,000 Montanans who elected me to speak on their behalf," Zephyr said Wednesday, saying that the protest was a response to having their voices silenced.

Zephyr said in a statement following the censure vote, "Though the Republican supermajority has voted to strip me of my ability to partake in debate, I remain steadfast in my commitment to my community."

Speaking in support of barring Zephyr from the floor for the remainder of the 90-day legislative session, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton accused her of placing lawmakers and staff at risk of harm for her actions during protests in the chamber on Monday.

"Freedom in this body involves obedience to all the rules of this body, including the rules of decorum," Vinton said.

Vinton and other House Republicans cited the Monday protest and accused Zephyr of inciting it.

"This is an assault on our representative democracy, spirited debate, and the free expression of ideas cannot flourish in an atmosphere of turmoil and incivility," Republican David Bedey said on the House floor.

"What is at stake is the expectation that any member of this body, whoever that might be, has a duty to strive to maintain decorum, so that the people's work, that work of all Montanans, can be accomplished."

Zephyr in her remarks pushed back on the idea that the protest threatened anybody's safety, saying that it was "peaceful."

"When the speaker gaveled down the people demanding that democracy work, demanding that their representative be heard, when he gaveled down, what he was doing was driving a nail in the coffin of democracy," she said.

The events have showcased the growing power of the Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of at least 21 right-wing lawmakers that has spearheaded the charge to discipline Zephyr. The caucus re-upped its demands and rhetoric Monday, saying in a statement that Zephyr's decision to hoist a microphone toward the gallery's protesters amounted to "encouraging an insurrection."  

There were no reports of damage to the building and lawmakers were not threatened.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.