Metro Weekly

Montana “Freedom Caucus” Demands Trans Lawmaker’s Censure

State Rep. Zooey Zephyr told lawmakers there would be "blood on your hands" if they prevent trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care.

Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr – Photo:

A group of Republican lawmakers in Montana have called for the immediate censure of the state’s sole transgender state representative for a fiery speech she gave in opposition to a bill seeking to ban minors from accessing gender-affirming health care.

The Montana Freedom Caucus, comprised of Republican members of both the House of Representatives and Senate, issued a statement on social media demanding that State Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula) be censured for “using inappropriate and uncalled-for language” in an attempt to shame lawmakers during floor debate on amendments to the bill recommended by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.

One of those amendments defines male and female strictly, being based only on a person’s biological characteristics at birth — essentially denying any recognition of transgender identity.

During debate on the floor, Zephyr told lawmakers that they might be pushing transgender youth who feel isolated or discriminated against because of their gender identity to contemplate suicide. In a 2022 survey by The Trevor Project, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth reported having seriously considered suicide over the past year.

“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture. This body should be ashamed,” Zephyr 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 (R-Billings) criticized Zephyr’s comments during the floor debate, saying the legislature will “not be shamed by anyone in this chamber. We are better than that.”

“We can debate matters civilly and with respect for each other,” Vinton added.

The bill passed by an overwhelming 66-34 majority, and now heads to Gianforte for his signature into law.

Zephyr later doubled down on her original remarks on Twitter, sharing a copy of a letter from an emergency room doctor who expressed concerns about the bill.

“When I said there is blood on their hands, I meant it,” Zephyr tweeted. “All legislators (& the Gov) received a letter from an ER doctor who dealt w/ a suicide attempt from a trans teen who cited OUR LEGISLATURE as a factor in their suicidality. ‘My state doesn’t want me,’ is what they said.”


But the Freedom Caucus has taken offense to Zephyr’s comments, claiming they constitute “hateful rhetoric” that can lead to violence.

To illustrate its point, the caucus invoked a mass shooting that killed six people at a school in Tennessee last month. The shooter in that case, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who was fatally shot by police, was transgender — though it is unclear if Hale’s gender identity played a role in the motivation behind the shooting.

“This kind of hateful rhetoric from an elected official is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred,” the Freedom Caucus wrote in its statement demanding censure. “Combined with former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson’s recent calls for ‘jihad’ and a ‘fight to the death,’ there is unmistakeable evidence of a desire for some to engage in violence over political beliefs. This must stop.”

The Freedom Caucus also misgendered Zephyr in its statement by referring to her using male pronouns. In response, Zephyr pointed to that misgendering as a sign that their alleged outrage over her speech is insincere.

“It is 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,” she said. “Their call for ‘civility and respect’ is hypocritical given their actions. In response to the Montana Freedom Caucus’ call for my censure, I stand by my accurate description of the devastating consequences of banning essential medial care for transgender youth.”

According to Fox News, Zephyr said that the bill to bar gender-affirming care is “part of an alarming trend of anti-trans legislation” in the state.

“These bills ban our art forms, our stories, our healthcare, and our very existence in Montana code,” she added, referring to bills to ban drag performances and prevent transgender people from having their gender identity recognized by the state or changing the gender marker on their vital documents. “Policy by policy, Republicans are legislating the eradication of queer and transgender people from public life.”

The Freedom Caucus’s call comes just over a month after Republicans in Oklahoma voted to censure State Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City), the nation’s first openly nonbinary state legislator, after they allowed an individual who had been protesting against a ban on gender-affirming care to hide in their office following an arrest. 

It also comes on the heels of a vote by lawmakers in Tennessee to expel two Black Democratic colleagues — and attempt to expel a white female Democratic state representative — for engaging in “disorderly and disruptive conduct” when they took part in a demonstration, along with protesters in the gallery of the House chamber, demanding legislation that would impose greater restrictions on firearms.

After the expulsions, some pundits questioned whether it would lead other legislative bodies to take similar disciplinary actions against lawmakers who speak out forcefully against the actions of the majority, even if just to score political points and silence dissent. 

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