Montana Trans Legislator Is Doing Her Job From a Capitol Hallway

HELENA, Mont. — As Montana lawmakers entered the critical final days of their legislative session on Thursday, one of the state’s two transgender lawmakers, Zooey Zephyr, was left exiled from the House chamber, monitoring the debate and casting votes on a laptop as she sat on a hallway bench near a bustling snack stand.

Ms. Zephyr has vowed to continue working to represent her constituents, even though Republican lawmakers have moved to punish her for impassioned comments she made on the House floor about a proposed ban on gender-affirming medical care for children.

She declined to comment Thursday on her unusual working conditions, as she used earbuds to block the sound of chattering lobbyists, the hiss of a milk foamer and the voices of lawmakers ordering coffee.

At one point, a fellow Democratic lawmaker, SJ Howell, a community organizer from Missoula who identifies as trans nonbinary, sat down on the bench to chat with Ms. Zephyr.

Republicans in Helena have been pushing a series of bills on transgender issues, part of a conservative legislative effort that has been coming up for votes in state capitols across the country. Ms. Zephyr stood on the House floor earlier in the month to tell colleagues that passing a bill to prohibit hormone treatments and surgical care for transgender minors would be “tantamount to torture” and would result in “blood on your hands” for lawmakers who approved it.

The House’s Republican leadership initially responded by refusing to recognize Ms. Zephyr in floor discussions. Then on Wednesday, citing violations of decorum, Republicans voted to ban her from the chamber for the rest of the session, which is scheduled to end next week.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus accused Ms. Zephyr of “standing in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection” when her supporters, who were protesting noisily from the gallery, were ordered to disperse.

Ms. Zephyr said she had raised her microphone toward the protesters to counter what she saw as an attempt by her fellow lawmakers to quell democracy. “As I raised my mic, I sought to amplify their voices in solidarity,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Zephyr has said she would not be silent as lawmakers consider bills that would harm transgender people. “I refuse to do so — I will always refuse to do so,” she said in a floor speech before the vote to punish her.

Her campaign for election last year in Missoula, a left-leaning city in a state that is growing steadily more conservative, focused on advocating for the rights of marginalized people.

Ms. Zephyr is part of an influx of transgender and nonbinary people who have been elected to public office across the country in recent years. Their number has grown to at least 70 this year, from 25 in 2019, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, an advocacy group that has supported many of the candidates.

There has been substantial pushback this year from Republican lawmakers, particularly on the issues of transgender medical treatment for young people and participation in school sports. Eleven states have passed laws prohibiting the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and transition surgery for people under the age of 18. Conservatives have also moved to ban transgender youths from the bathrooms and sports teams that serve their gender identities.

Republicans have argued that transition care can be harmful and that minors are not mature enough to make decisions with such significant medical consequences. But major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have urged states not to interfere with gender-affirming care, saying the treatments are offered by doctors only when they are medically necessary and appropriate.

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