Representative Zooey Zephyr took to the floor of the Montana Legislature on Tuesday to make an impassioned plea for her colleagues to reject a bill that would ban transition care for transgender minors, saying that denying such care would be “tantamount to torture.”
“This body should be ashamed,” Ms. Zephyr, a first-term Democrat and the Legislature’s first transgender member, said. “If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
The Montana Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, responded by accusing Ms. Zephyr in a letter of “attempting to shame the legislative body” by using “hateful rhetoric.” The letter, which misgendered Ms. Zephyr, called for her to be censured.
On Thursday, however, the House adjourned without taking that step. It was unclear if they planned to take up the matter on Friday.
But before adjourning, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would define sex as binary depending on whether a person produces eggs or sperm, and would apply those definitions to 40 sections of state law. The speaker of the House, Matt Regier, refused to acknowledge Ms. Zephyr during the debate on Thursday.
The bill was approved near the end of a week in which the state’s House and Senate passed several measures targeting transgender people. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, asked lawmakers to “strengthen” the legislation banning what doctors call gender-affirming care for minors with a series of amendments, according to The Montana Free Press. In the letter, Mr. Gianforte said that gender-affirming care was a misleading term and compared it to “Orwellian Newspeak.”
On the State House floor on Tuesday, Ms. Zephyr said the effort to “define male and female as binary” was harmful.
“You could not legislate binary sex any less than you can legislate that the Earth is flat,” she said. “Intersex people exist, trans people exist, and this bill doesn’t change that.”
In response, Representative Sue Vinton, a Republican and the majority leader, stood in objection.
“We will not be shamed by anyone in this chamber,” she said. “We are better than that.”
The amended bill, which would ban hormone treatments and surgical care for transgender minors under the age of 18, passed with overwhelming support in the Republican-led House. Mr. Gianforte is expected to sign it into law.
Montana is the latest state with a Republican-controlled legislature to pass bills prohibiting gender-affirming care for young people. The laws ban or significantly limit the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and transition surgery for people under 18. Indiana and Idaho passed similar bans earlier this month.
Earlier this month, Republicans in Tennessee ousted two Democratic state lawmakers over a gun control protest. Both have since been returned to their seats on a temporary basis ahead of special elections later this year.
By the time Ms. Zephyr spoke on Tuesday, the Montana Legislature had either considered or approved four pieces of legislation targeting transgender people on that day alone, she said, including a parental rights bill, an amendment to an online privacy bill that would prohibit the distribution of drag shows online and an education bill requiring written consent from parents for a child’s preferred names or pronouns to be used in the classroom but does not require teachers to use them.
On Thursday, before the House approved the bill to create a binary definition of sex as male or female, Ms. Zephyr said the measure “would write me out of code.”
In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Zephyr said she knew there would be anti-transgender legislation in Montana. But she said she had hoped that “the bulk of the time would be spent on serious issues facing Montanans,” adding that the housing crisis in her district in Missoula was a top priority.
“We are each elected in the moment of history that we’re a part of,” she said. “The Republican Party has made this moment about attacking trans people across the country who are trying to live their lives.”
To fellow transgender people in Montana, Ms. Zephyr said the fight for equality was far from over.
“We’re going to win in the end,” she said. “These bills will go down ultimately in the courts. We will find support in our community and someday legislatures will stop bringing harmful bills like the ones we see. Until that happens, lean on your community and stay alive.”