WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, April 26, the Montana House voted 68-32 to censure Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D), the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, after her comments during a debate on legislation to ban gender-affirming care for minors. “I rose up in defense of my community that day, speaking to harms that these bills bring that I have firsthand experience knowing about,” Zephyr said in a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday. Zephyr will be unable to speak on the floor for the remainder of the session, though she will be able to cast votes remotely.
The decision to silence a lawmaker standing up for her constituents is eerily reminiscent of recent expulsions in the Tennessee Legislature. On April 6, the Tennessee House voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black, Democratic lawmakers who represent parts of Nashville and Memphis. Jones and Pearson allegedly broke decorum rules when they joined protestors at the state capitol building calling for gun safety legislation after a recent mass shooting at a Nashville elementary school. In Montana, Zephyr’s remarks that angered Republicans similarly coincided with citizens protesting proposed legislation in the chamber.
Both Jones and Pearson have since been reappointed to their positions by local councils, but the action briefly stripped democratically elected officials of their authority and Tennessee residents of their representation. These brazen moves by Republican supermajorities in deep red states bar Democratic lawmakers from advocating for differing opinions. As Zephyr notes, such an action is a “disturbing affront to democracy.”