(HELENA, Mt.) — The day after state Rep. Zooey Zephyr was censured by Montana House Republicans, she could be found seated in the public area of the state capitol building, voting and participating from her laptop as close to the House floor as she was allowed.
“The people sent me here to do the work, and much of that work is on the House floor,” Zephyr told ABC News in an interview. “I need to be as close as possible, so I can have the conversations with legislators and make sure that I can, at least in some way, make sure the voice of my constituents can be discussed.”
Zephyr’s calls to vote against a gender-affirming care ban for transgender youth on bill SB99 prompted days of being ignored by Republican leaders on the House floor.
“If you are denying gender-affirming care and forcing a trans child to go through puberty, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed,” Zephyr said in the April 18 debate.
She continued, “If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
Republican lawmakers responded by refusing to allow her to speak or comment on the House floor, she says. Some legislators, including House Speaker Matt Regier, argued she had broken House rules of decorum.
“All representatives are free to participate in House debate while following the House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Representative Zephyr has made,” said Regier in a statement to reporters. “The only person silencing Representative Zephyr is Representative Zephyr.”
Demonstrators in support of Zephyr interrupted House business several days later to protest her silencing. Zephyr showed her support by holding up her mic and failing to leave the House floor.
“Let her speak,” protesters chanted.
House Republicans voted to censure her in response, representing just over the two-thirds needed to bar her from the House floor.
Several of her colleagues argued that Zephyr was inciting “violence” and showing “flagrant disregard for the safety and well-being” of those at the House, according to one statement from the Montana Freedom Caucus.
Zephyr argues the real violence is the negative impact gender-affirming care bans may have on transgender youth.
Zephyr, the first openly trans lawmaker in the state, told ABC News transitioning has played a pivotal role in her life.
“Trans people, when they transition, we come fully alive into ourselves,” Zephyr said. “We live lives full of joy and purpose … we live in a resonance with our bodies that we were unable to do prior to our transitions.”
She continued, “Trans people know that and those who love and care about us, they see that as well. And so, to me, that is one of the fundamental truths underpinning this moment. And it’s why ultimately, we’ll win.”
Due to discrimination and gender dysphoria, the psychological distress of presenting as a gender that doesn’t feel like one’s own, trans youth face higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, research shows. Receiving gender-affirming care has proven to improve such mental health conditions, according to several studies.
Zephyr said she has seen these consequences firsthand.
“I have lost friends to suicide this year,” Zephyr said. “I’ve had families call me when there have been – and discuss with colleagues of mine as well – when there have been suicide attempts by trans youth, including one trans teenager who attempted to take her life watching one of these hearings on legislation targeting the transgender community.”
If SB99 is signed by Montana’s governor, it will join at least 13 other states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah — in passing laws or policies that restrict gender-affirming care for people under the age of legal majority, which is the threshold for legal adulthood.
As the legislative session comes to an end in the coming weeks, Zephyr told ABC News she hopes to continue to speak up “in defense of our communities with a passion, that is with an urgency that meets the moment.”
“The policies you bring forward, both directly and indirectly, make it impossible for trans people to thrive and live in the world,” she said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide — free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call or text the national lifeline at 988. Even if you feel like it, you are not alone.
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