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Transgender lawmaker speaks out on her banishment from Montana House floor

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Let's hear now from Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr. Yesterday Republicans in the Montana House of Representatives punished her, voting along party lines to bar Zephyr from appearing or speaking on the House floor for the rest of the current legislative session. She can still cast votes remotely. Zephyr is a Democrat. She's the first transgender woman to serve as a lawmaker in Montana's history. She's been outspoken in protesting legislation that would restrict transgender rights. In censuring her, Republicans said Zephyr disrupted and disturbed the orderly proceedings of the Montana House. Zooey Zephyr, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ZOOEY ZEPHYR: Thank you so much for having me.

BLOCK: Let's scroll back to last week. You were rebuking your colleagues for supporting a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, and you said your fellow lawmakers would have, quote, "blood on their hands" for supporting this legislation. What did you mean by that?

ZEPHYR: So that bill was one of many that we've heard targeting the trans community this legislative session. We've had bills targeting our art forms, our histories, our health care, our books. And when it comes to our health care, I have heard firsthand the very real and damaging impact that these bills have had. I've lost friends to suicide this year. So I wasn't being hyperbolic. I was talking about the real harm that these bills create.

BLOCK: Well, the blood on your hands remark led to your being blocked from speaking. That led to protests on Monday on your behalf in the House chamber. Protesters were shouting, let her speak. And there are pictures of you holding a microphone above your head to amplify those protests. Republicans say that you were encouraging an insurrection and you put the legislators at risk of harm, and that's why they've banned you from the House. How do you respond to that?

ZEPHYR: I would say this began when the speaker decided to not recognize a duly elected representative. They cited decorum, but we've seen in unequal applications of decorum. We've had legislators scream during their closings. We've had legislators insinuate that my existence, just my existence alone, is somehow sexualizing children. We objected in the moment and then let them go. And when the speaker chose not to recognize me, he's choosing to silence the voices of the 11,000 Montanans who sent me here to represent them. So when my community and my constituents showed up to the Capitol, stood peacefully and chanted, let her speak, what they were really rallying for is democracy. And I'm not surprised that they stood up in defense of democracy. And that's why I raised my mic - to support them.

BLOCK: And that's being considered a breach of decorum. The Montana House speaker - this is Matt Regier - said the only person who is silencing Representative Zephyr is Representative Zephyr.

ZEPHYR: Again, this goes back to the unequal application of decorum that we've seen. And it's important to note that, again, I'm talking to the real harm that these policies bring, the deaths I've seen as a result of these policies. And so when the speaker asks me to apologize for holding him accountable and holding this legislative body accountable for the harm that these bills bring, he's really asking me to be complicit in that harm. And I refuse to do so.

BLOCK: Zooey Zephyr, we spoke with you on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED last fall after you had become the first transgender woman lawmaker elected in Montana. And you said then that you had seen bills that you disagreed with passed through the legislature by one vote. You thought you could change that. But Republicans do have a supermajority in the House. So do you still really feel that your one vote can make a difference?

ZEPHYR: I am nothing if not a well of optimism. And I have seen the way in which I can move the needle behind the scenes. My one vote represents 11,000 constituents in Montana. And whether that vote is on a bill that passes 51-49 or 99-1, when I speak on the floor, I'm speaking on behalf of my constituents. And when I take a vote, I'm taking a vote on their behalf. So I will always have hope.

BLOCK: That's Zooey Zephyr, a state lawmaker in Montana who has been barred from the House floor by a vote of her Republican colleagues. Miss Zephyr, thank you very much.

ZEPHYR: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vincent Acovino
Patrick Jarenwattananon
Melissa Block
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.