'I Will Not Apologize': Montana state Representative Zooey Zephyr fights back against the GOP's weaponization of 'decorum' in state legisiatures.

AuthorStockwell, Norman

On April 18, Democratic state Representative Zooey Zephyr spoke out on the floor of the Montana legislature against Senate Bill 99, a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. Zephyr, who was elected from Missoula last November as the first openly trans woman in the state assembly, with more than 79 percent of the vote, was prevented from speaking for the remainder of the legislative session. Targeted for saying that members of the Republican supermajority would have "blood on [their] hands," Zephyr was forced to work from a hallway in the capital building and could only cast votes using her laptop. Speaking on a video call on May 8, Zephyr described to The Progressive what had occurred:

"I had spoken to the very real way in which that bill [would get] members of my community killed, directly and indirectly.

"After doing so, the speaker refused to recognize me. And after several days of not recognizing me, I argued, 'You are not just silencing me; you are taking away the voice of my 11,000 constituents' He said, 'You need to apologize for what you said,' and I replied, 'I spoke directly to real harm that happens to my community, and I will not apologize.' So he said, "Then I'm not going to recognize you going forward on any bill.'

"Many of my constituents and others across the state who recognized this as an attack on democracy came to a rally. And many of them were in the gallery watching and stayed there for several hours.

"When I punched in on a bill to speak and was not recognized, they stood and chanted, 'Let her speak!' And in doing so, they were acknowledging, 'Our voice has been taken. This is not how democracy works. Let our representative speak.'

The speaker refused to let me speak and gaveled them down. A few days later, the House convened to censure me and removed me from the people's house entirely, pushing me out into a common area, disallowing me from debate on the floor, and only allowing me to vote remotely. And even that, even sitting outside in the public area, was something I had to fight for.

Zephyr ended up setting up a desk in a public area near the chamber.

"The goal was to be as close to the people's house as legally allowed," she explains. "That's what we're sent to do. We are sent here to represent our constituents. We are sent here to be their voice. If a supermajority can, for any reason, entirely silence a member of the minority, that should be very concerning--harrowing even--for anyone who...

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