Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr is suing to be reinstated and allowed back on the House floor after Republicans voted last week to censure her after the lawmaker spoke up for the rights of transgender people in the state.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Zephyr and four constituents, alleges that Zephyr’s rights to free speech were violated when she was censured and that her constituents in Missoula are being denied their rights to representation in the state House in violation of the Montana Constitution. The suit names the state of Montana, Montana state House Speaker Matt Regier (R) and state House Sergeant at Arms Bradley Murfitt (R) as defendants.
“This effort by House leadership to silence me and my constituents is a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself,” Zephyr said in a statement. “House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself. By doing so, they’ve denied me my own rights under the Constitution and, more importantly, the rights of my constituents to just representation in their own government.”
The lawsuit says that the censure of Zephyr, the first openly trans person elected to the Montana legislature, is part of a broader attack on the trans community that the legislature has carried out in recent months, including a ban on gender-affirming care for minors passed this year.
“Montana’s 68th Legislative Session is blighted with attacks on vulnerable individuals and communities in Montana,” the lawsuit reads. “The Legislature has passed numerous bills attacking and marginalizing transgender and nonbinary Montanans. The Censure of Representative Zephyr reflects the culmination of those attacks.”
Anna Wong, a constituent plaintiff and parent of a trans child, said that Zephyr’s voice is vital in the fight against the right’s anti-trans crusade. “Suicide amongst transgender youth is not imaginary,” Wong said. “It is not a game and it is not a political foil. It is real. It is heartbreaking. And it is the responsibility of my representative to speak out against bills promoting it.”
A spokesperson for the Republican Attorney General for the state, who will represent Montana in the case, said that the lawsuit amounted to “political activism” – though with Republicans’ nationwide push to attack trans people, advocates have argued that the supposed reasoning behind Zephyr’s removal is as political as it gets.
Republicans in the state House silenced Zephyr last week, first barring her from speaking on the House floor and then voting to censure and bar her from entering the chamber, sparking protests from LGBTQ activists.
Republicans cited Zephyr’s use of the phrase “blood on your hands” in a House debate on the state’s extremist anti-trans gender affirming care ban — but as reporters and the lawsuit points out, the phrase has been used many times by politicians across the country with little consequences.
The lawsuit further points out that Montana lawmakers have made extremely inflammatory statements in the legislature without facing similar punishments, including when Republican Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe said in a House debate in March that she would rather have her own child die by suicide than allow them to access gender-affirming care.
According to local reporters, Republicans appear to be attempting to limit press coverage of the legislature’s actions this week. Montana reporter Holly Michels reported that, on Monday, House Judiciary Chair Amy Regier (R), sister of the state House speaker, placed limits on the press’s ability to report on the judiciary committee’s actions, including barring journalists from using laptops. Zephyr was able to speak as a state representative in the House during a hearing Monday, for the first time since her censure.
Zephyr is one of many lawmakers who have been silenced for criticizing top Republican priorities in recent weeks. In April, Republicans in the Tennessee House expelled two Black Democratic lawmakers who participated in a protest on the House floor against gun violence. Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a Democratic senator is facing a complaint filed by an Omaha attorney absurdly alleging that she has a conflict of interest in speaking up for trans rights because she has a trans child.
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