Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) sued the state of Montana and the speaker of the Montana House on Monday after Republican lawmakers voted to censure and block her from speaking.
Montana Republicans retaliated against Zephyr, a trans woman, last month after she spoke evocatively against a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors. State Republican lawmakers banned Zephyr from the chamber, forcing her to vote remotely while excluding her from debate on pending legislation.
The move to bar Zephyr drew comparisons to another episode last month, when Republican lawmakers in Tennessee voted to expel two Democratic lawmakers from the state House after they joined a gun control protest in the legislative chamber. Both were swiftly reinstated by their constituents.
Zephyr, the state’s first elected trans representative, filed the suit in state court in Helena, accusing Republican lawmakers of violating the state constitutions’ free speech and equal protection clauses by depriving her of her right as a lawmaker to debate legislation.
Montana Republicans have pushed this year to pass a raft of legislation that would, among other things, codify in state law that gender is a binary, and prohibit drag performances from taking place in most public spaces.
But Zephyr, elected in November 2022 to represent Missoula, drew GOP ire for a public stand she took against the bill which would prohibit gender affirming care for trans minors, including treatments to delay the onset of puberty.
Zephyr referenced a study showing that gender affirming care provided to trans teens reduced their likelihood of suicide, telling GOP lawmakers that she hoped “the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood
on your hands.”
Republican lawmakers responded by banning her from participating in floor debates, accusing her of violating house decorum rules. After Zephyr’s supporters later demanded that she be allowed to speak, and Zephyr raised a microphone in support, Republicans banned the representative from appearing at the House floor. Republicans also reportedly rerouted bills away from committees on which Zephyr served.
After being exiled, she spent the last week fighting to use a bench in a state House hallway, from which perch she could vote remotely.
“If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, all you are doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression,” she said during the debate last month over how she was to be retaliated against.
Zephyr is asking a state judge to order Montana state House lawmakers to allow her to participate in debate and to enter the House floor.
The Montana ACLU is representing Zephyr in the case. It names the state of Montana, the Montana House’s sergeant-at-arms, and speaker of the Montana House Rep. Matt Regier (R) as defendants.