Zooey Zephyr files censorship lawsuit for opposing anti-trans law

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting at the Montana State Capitol in Helena, Montana. Monday, May 1, 2023. Rep. Zephyr asked a court on Monday to allow her return to the House after she was silenced and banned for berating fellow Republicans over legislation to restrict health care affirming gender and for encouraging protesters. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

Montana’s first openly transgender legislator has sued the state over the Republican-dominated legislature’s decision to ban her from the House floor.

Zooey Zephyr, who has been barred from physically entering the House chamber since being censored on Thursday, has filed a lawsuit for what lawyers describe as ‘unconstitutional censorship and retaliatory silence “. Zephyr, who took office after being elected in November 2022, sparked controversy when she criticized those of her colleagues who supported a since-passed bill that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth .

“If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there is an invocation, when you bow your head in prayer, you will see the blood on your hands,” a- she said during the debate on the bill on April 18. The Montana Freedom Caucus, which the lawsuit describes as a group of “several ultraconservative representatives,” released a statement demanding that Zephyr be censored, noting that the group has “deliberately misinterpreted” Zephyr in all external communications.

The next day, House Speaker Matt Regier, a Republican, called on Zephyr to apologize; She did not do it. That same day, Regier told Zephyr that “her comments broke decorum and he wouldn’t recognize her speaking again until he believed she could ‘maintain decorum’ in the future,” says the trial. True to her word, Regier refused to acknowledge her the following day, April 20, when she asked to speak on a different bill that would officially define ‘sex’ as based solely on her reproductive system – denying essentially the legal recognition of transgender people. and intersex people.

Four days later, on April 24, the House voted to block Zephyr from speaking. On the same day, when protesters inside the venue chanted “Let her speak”, she stood up and raised her microphone, which had been turned off. About six of these protesters were arrested.

On April 26, the House, led by Republican Majority Leader Sue Vinton, proposed that Zephyr be censored for the protest. The motion carried 68-32. The next day, according to the lawsuit, her key card access to the Capitol building was disabled and she was told she was not allowed to work at a public bench outside the House antechamber. .

Lawsuit says Zephyr was censured for ‘silently raising a silent microphone above her head’ and failing to ‘calm down’ protesters while other lawmakers faced no consequences for behavior much more conflicting.

“For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, individuals brandished weapons during their protests,” the lawsuit states. “Despite this, no legislator has been sanctioned in these situations for the behavior of those with whom they are politically aligned, for acknowledging their views, or for failing to ‘calm’ them.”

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU on behalf of Zephyr and four constituents, says the measure not only deprives Zephyr of her “right to freely engage in the legislative process,” as she was elected to do, but also denies Zephyr voter representation. .

“Since the motion passed, Representative Zephyr has effectively been removed from the legislative process and the voices of her 11,000 constituents have been collectively silenced,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges the retaliation is based not just on Zephyr’s actions, but on her “who she is”: the first open transgender woman elected to the Montana legislature and a member of a community that has been targeted by the current slate of sitting state legislators.

“Montana’s 68th Legislative Session is marred by attacks on vulnerable Montana individuals and communities,” the lawsuit says. “These attacks are perhaps felt most harshly by members of the 2S-LGBTQIA+ community. The Legislative Assembly has passed numerous bills attacking and marginalizing transgender and non-binary Montanese. The censorship of Representative Zephyr reflects the culmination of these attacks. »

The complaint also notes that Zephyr’s removal from the House comes at a crucial time in the legislative session for the Montanans.

“In the final days of the legislative session, the Montana House of Representatives is poised to consider critical legislation,” the complaint states. “House Bill 2 – the state budget bill, affecting every corner of government and affecting every citizen of the state – will be debated on the floor of the House this week. Rep. Zephyr’s censorship is preventing her voice — and by extension the voice of her 11,000 constituents — from being heard on perhaps the most important bill the Legislature will consider this session.

Zephyr, 34, was elected in November 2022.

The lawsuit names the state of Montana, Regier and Sergeant-at-Arms Bradley Murfitt, who is responsible for censorship enforcement, as defendants.

“I’m suing,” Zephyr announced on Twitter Monday. “The recent actions violate my 1st Amendment rights, as well as the representation rights of my 11,000 constituents. The Montana State House is the people’s house, not President Regier’s, and I am determined to defend the people’s right to have their voices heard.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed the anti-transgender legislation into law on Friday. The governor’s son, who is not binary, reportedly urged him to reject the bill.

Zephyr is seeking a declaration from the judge that the censorship violated Zephyr’s First Amendment and Equal Protection rights and an injunction prohibiting the censorship from being enforced against her, as well as a restoration of all of her legislative privileges.

You can read the lawsuit, via the ACLU, here.

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