Rebuke of transgender legislator spurs protests, arrests at Montana legislature

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At least seven demonstrators were arrested at the Montana State Capitol on Monday after a raucous crowd interrupted the legislature with a noisy protest to support a transgender lawmaker who was suspended from speaking on the floor for incendiary remarks.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, 34, was shown raising a microphone in the air on the House floor as Montana Highway Patrol officers sought to restore order while a mob of about 100 activists in the gallery chanted “Let her speak!”

The seven protesters were charged with criminal trespass and released without bond, the Helena Independent Record reported.

“When my constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being turned off, they courageously came forward to defend their democratic rights to be heard – and some were arrested in the process,” the Missoula Democratic lawmaker said in a statement. “I stood by them in solidarity and continue to do so.”

House Speaker Matt Regier, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, and Speaker Pro Tempore Rhonda Knudsen issued a statement afterward thanking law enforcement and reconfirming their commitment to “decorum, safety and order.”

“House Republicans condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate and respect for our processes of government,” the leadership said. “Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff. Their actions did not represent Montana values.”

Mr. Regier refused for the third day to recognize the Democratic lawmaker over comments made last week during a debate on legislation to prevent minor children from being treated with gender-transition drugs and surgeries.

The first-term lawmaker replied that “if you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture.”

“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,” the Democrat said in April 18 comments on the House floor.

The legislator, who identifies as female, is the first transgender lawmaker elected to the Montana legislature.

Senate Bill 99 passed, but Mr. Regier cited the comments as a breach of decorum and said the lawmaker must issue an apology before being recognized again.

The Montana Freedom Caucus called Monday for “immediate disciplinary action against Democrat Representative Zooey Zephyr of Missoula,” who they said was “encouraging an insurrection.”

“The Montana Freedom Caucus condemns the actions of violent protesters at the capitol building today,” said the caucus of conservative Republicans in a statement. “The actions of a small minority of people disrupted the business of all Montanans and continues to show why we must enforce rules of decorum when engaged in public debate.”

The caucus also said that “Representative Zephyr encouraged these actions by standing in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection after all members were told to move to the sides and clear the House gallery to remain in a safe location.”

Today was a clear example of self service. Not public service. #mtpol

— Montana Freedom Caucus (@MTFreedomCaucus) April 24, 2023

The caucus called April 18 for a censure on the grounds of “attempting to shame the Montana legislative body and using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate.”

But the Democratic lawmaker has not only refused to apologize, but doubled down on the remarks, tweeting afterward, “when I said there is blood on their hands, I meant it.”

The lawmaker called it “disheartening that the Montana Freedom Caucus would stoop so low as to misgender me in their letter, further demonstrating their disregard for the dignity and humanity of transgender individuals.”

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is expected to sign Senate Bill 99, which would make Montana the 17th state to enact prohibitions on “gender-affirming care” for minors.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bill last week banning the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries for minors.

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