HELENA – A group of conservative Republican lawmakers in Montana deliberately misgendered a transgender colleague in demanding that she be censored for language she used on the floor while speaking against a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for children.
The Montana Freedom Caucus posted its demand on Twitter Tuesday evening — on letterhead bearing the names of 14 members and seven transitional members — arguing that Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr should be punished “for trying to shame the Montana legislative body and by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate.”
The caucus called for a “commitment to civil discourse,” while misgendering Zephyr in the same sentence. The caucus also misgendered Zephyr in the Tweet.
Lawmakers were debating Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed amendments to the transgender medical care bill on Tuesday when Zephyr, referring to the prayer given prior to every floor session, said: “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.”
House Majority Leader Sue Vinton stood and said: “I will note that this is entirely inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for. We can debate matters civilly and with respect for each other.” Vinton had earlier risen in opposition to Zephyr’s statement that lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves if they supported the bill.
“The language used by the so-called Freedom Caucus, including the intentional and repeated misgendering of Rep. Zephyr, is blatantly disrespectful and the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘commitment to civil discourse’ that these letter writers demand,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said in a statement. “I find it incredibly ironic that these legislators are making demands of others that they refuse to abide by themselves.”
Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella, chair of the Montana Freedom Caucus, did not immediately respond to emailed questions Wednesday. Madison Atkinson, the spokesperson for the House Republicans, did not respond to an email asking if the House planned to censure Zephyr.
The exchange is an example of the polarization seen in legislatures around the country as they debate bills affecting the transgender community.
Earlier this month in Kansas, House lawmakers overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning transgender female athletes from girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college. Two LGBTQ+ Democratic lawmakers were upset because they believed Republicans were gloating over the vote.
Rep. Heather Meyer, who also has a transgender son, stood, opened her jacket and displayed a “Protect Trans Youth” T-shirt before making a rude gesture as she left the chamber. Rep. Susan Ruiz yelled at GOP members, briefly cursing at them before being told she was out of order.
In a number of states, transgender people who have testified against legislation that target their rights have been met with demeaning questions and rhetoric from Republican lawmakers.
Zephyr began her comments Tuesday by criticizing a letter from the governor explaining his proposed amendments to the gender-affirming care bill. In it, the governor said he had met with transgender residents and said Montanans who struggle with gender identity deserve love, compassion and respect.
“That’s not what trans Montanans need from you,” Zephyr said. “We need access to the medical care that saves our lives.”
In a social media post afterward, Zephyr said legislation to ban gender-affirming medical care for children is causing harm. Lawmakers are also considering a bill to put a binary definition of sex into state law.
She noted that lawmakers and the governor received a letter from an emergency room physician who said a transgender teen cited the legislature’s actions as the reason for their suicide attempt. “My state doesn’t want me,” the doctor reported the patient as having said.
The House endorsed the governor’s amendments on a party-line vote Tuesday gave final approval on Wednesday. The Senate must still give the bill its final approval before it goes to Gianforte for his signature.
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