Law enforcement escorted supporters of Montana transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr from the gallery above the House floor, with several being removed by force. Seven were arrested for criminal trespass and were taken to the county jail to be booked and released. Republican leaders reacted strongly to the disruption, referring to it as a “riot” and an “insurrection.”
Republican leaders cut the sound on the video feed, and Zephyr remained on the floor holding her microphone as supporters chanted “Whose House? Our House!” The sergeant-at-arms asked Zephyr to help calm things down, a request that she refused. Zephyr did not return to the floor when the lawmakers reconvened, and she indicated that she was headed to the county jail with the protesters who were arrested. She tweeted that she went there to show “support for those who were arrested defending democracy.”
Zephyr’s supporters say her admonishment was unprecedented and personal, but most have refrained from commenting publicly. The House leadership has declined to comment to journalists, but released a statement saying they “condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate and respect for our processes of government.”
The conservative Montana Freedom Caucus, including 21 of the legislature’s 102 Republican lawmakers, called for immediate disciplinary action against Zephyr after she stood in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection after all members were told to move to the sides.
Zephyr and her supporters argue that restricting gender-affirming care endangers transgender youth, who studies suggest are at greater risk of depression and suicide. Support for Zephyr’s cause was evident outside the Capitol building, where she addressed the crowd, telling supporters that she planned to continue speaking forcefully against legislation that members of the transgender community, including herself, consider matters of life and death.
The Republican efforts to keep Zephyr from speaking have given such legislative battles newfound attention. Lawmakers passed the gender-affirming care ban last week, and Governor Greg Gianforte has indicated he will sign it. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have vowed to challenge it in court before it takes effect in October.