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Riot police arrest protesters backing silenced transgender lawmaker at Montana capitol: ‘Let her speak’

Missoula Democrat spoke out in protest of ban on gender-affirming care

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 25 April 2023 02:03 BST
Transgender Montana lawmaker refuses to back down after silencing

Riot police at the Montana state capitol descended on protesters on Monday who brought the statehouse to a standstill as they chanted their support for Zooey Zephyr.

Ms Zephyr, the Democratic state representative for Missoula, who is transgender, has been barred from speaking on the floor since she criticised a GOP bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for minors.

Last week, Ms Zephyr told her Republican counterparts that if they backed the bill, they would have “blood on their hands,” prompting them to forbid her from participating in debate.

Numerous supporters packed the observation gallery on Monday, as state lawmakers considered a raft of bills about LGTBQ+ people and voted to uphold a prohibition on Rep Zephyr speaking.

Chants of, “Let her speak!” rang out in the capitol hall. Rep Zephyr appeared to support the protesters, holding her non-functional microphone above her head and tapping her hand on her heart.

“I have stepped off the house floor to show support for those who were arrested defending democracy,” the Democrat wrote on Twitter on Monday afternoon following the arrests. “I will be back as soon as I can.”

At least five protesters were arrested on Monday, the Helana Independent Record reports. Police units from the Montana Highway Patrol, and the Lewis and Clark county sheriff’s officers, were involved in the operation.

The Independent has contacted the officer of the Montana House of Representatives Sergeant-At-Arms and the Montana Highway Patrol for comment.

Supporters also turned in a petition with thousands of signatures to the office of Montana House Speaker Matt Regier to let the Democrat participate in debate once again.

Prior to the fracas inside the House, Rep Zephyr addressed a large crowd of supporters who gathered on the capitol steps.

Law enforcement forcibly clear the Montana House of Representatives gallery (AP)

“It attacks the very reason we have elections,” she told the group. “I was sent here to speak on behalf of my constituents, to speak on behalf of my community. It’s the promise I made when I got elected and it’s the promise that I will continue to keep every single day that I’m in this building.”

The controversy in Montana is reminiscent of a recent high-profile battle in the Tennessee statehouse, where Republican lawmakers ejected two Democrats who had participated in a protest on the House floor against inaction on mass shootings, following a massacre at a Nashville elementary school.

Prior to being expelled, Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, as well as Democratic colleague Gloria Johnson, were frequently cut off or denied the right to speak during debate in the state legislature.

Zooey Zephyr holds up a non-working microphone as supporters chant ‘Let her speak’ (AP)

“The way that the members have been treated, the way that the leadership speaks to these members and uses code words like ‘ineffective,’ ‘attention-seeking,’ ‘disrespectful,’ ‘aggressive’ – it’s clear that the ability of these three members to repeatedly garner the support of thousands of young people and outspoken celebrity activists that support them has shaken the Republican leadership to the point of feeling their only option is to expel these members,” Carrie Russell, a lecturer in political science and expert on Southern politics at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, told The Independent.

“These three have refused to comply with the routine expectations of the Republican leadership, expectations that demand staying ‘in their place,’ turning a blind eye and tolerating the dismissive treatment.”

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