Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D), Montana’s first openly transgender legislator, thrust a dead microphone above her head in the state House on Monday as officers clad in riot gear attempted to clear the gallery of protesters, some of whom chanted “Let her speak!” and waved pride flags as they were escorted from the chamber.
Zephyr, 34, had just been silenced by her Republican colleagues for the third day in a row as she tried to speak on a bill that would affect trans minors. After House Speaker Matt Regier (R) refused to acknowledge Zephyr, her supporters erupted, forcing legislative leaders to pause the session until decorum could be restored.
At least seven people were arrested as crowd control officers and members of the Montana Highway Patrol and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office were mobilized to clear the gallery, according to the Helena Independent Record. Zephyr, a first-term Democrat from Missoula, left the chamber shortly after.
“I have stepped off the house floor to show support for those who were arrested defending democracy,” she tweeted. “I will be back as soon as I can.”
She told the Associated Press she was headed to the county jail, where the detained protesters would be taken. A GoFundMe to raise money for bail launched in the wake of the arrests quickly surpassed its $15,000 goal.
In a formal statement issued later on Monday, Zephyr said, “For the third consecutive day, I have been denied the opportunity to represent my constituents in the Montana legislature and to speak on their behalf.”
“When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being disabled, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic right to be heard—and some were arrested in the process,” she continued. “I stood by them in solidarity and will continue to do so.”
The House speaker has all but vowed not to recognize Zephyr until she apologizes for a passionate speech made from the House floor on Tuesday, in which she warned lawmakers they’d have “blood on [their] hands” if they voted in favor of a bill banning gender-affirming care.
After her remarks, a conservative faction of lawmakers calling themselves the Montana Freedom Caucus demanded Zephyr be censured, deliberately misgendering her in a statement that accused her of “trying to shame the Montana legislative body and by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate.”
On Monday, the caucus tweeted out cell phone footage of Zephyr on the floor, labeling her actions “a clear example of self service. Not public service.”
The bill banning gender-affirming care passed a final vote in the state Senate on Wednesday, and was sent to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk for signing. The next day, Regier began obstructing Zephyr, forbidding her from speaking on a bill that would enshrine binary definitions of male and female in state code. On Friday, she was silenced during debate on a bill that seeks to prevent minors from viewing online pornography.
Monday’s debate was over a measure that would restrict when and how trans and non-binary children could change their names and pronouns in school. After Zephyr was again barred from speaking, chants broke out above lawmakers’ heads: “Whose House? Our House!”
Despite the continuing gag order, Zephyr has not been formally censured, and has stood by her remarks. In a statement last week, House Minority Leader Kim Abbott made her support of her colleague known, saying, “The language used by the so-called Freedom Caucus, including the intentional and repeated misgendering of Rep. Zephyr, is blatantly disrespectful and the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘commitment to civil discourse’ that these letter writers demand.”
Ahead of Monday’s House session, more than 300 people had gathered outside the statehouse in support of the 34-year-old, who represents just over 10,000 Montanans. Zephyr met the crowd on the steps, telling them that she planned to continue speaking up on behalf of her constituents and her community.
“We are seeing bills that harm community members and when those communities that see the repercussions of those bills have the audacity to stand up and say, ‘This legislation gets us killed,’ those in power aren’t content with just passing those hateful harmful bills,” she said.
“What they are demanding is silence. We will not be complicit in our eradication.”