HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A group of conservative Republican lawmakers in Montana deliberately misgendered a transgender colleague in demanding that she be censured for language she used on the floor while speaking against a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for children.
The Montana Freedom Caucus posted its demand on Twitter Tuesday evening — on letterhead bearing the names of 21 lawmakers — arguing that Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr should be punished “for trying to shame the Montana legislative body and by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate.”
The caucus called for a “commitment to civil discourse,” while misgendering Zephyr in the same sentence. The caucus also misgendered Zephyr in the Tweet.
“It is disheartening that the Montana Freedom Caucus would stoop so low as to misgender me in their letter, further demonstrating their disregard for the dignity and humanity of transgender individuals,” Zephyr said in a statement Wednesday. “Their call for ‘civility and respect’ is hypocritical given their actions.”
Lawmakers were debating Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s proposed amendments to the transgender medical care bill on Tuesday when Zephyr, referring to the prayer given prior to every floor session, 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.”
House Majority Leader Sue Vinton stood and said: “I will note that this is entirely inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for. We can debate matters civilly and with respect for each other.” Vinton had earlier risen in opposition to Zephyr’s statement that lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves if they supported the bill.
“The language used by the so-called Freedom Caucus, including the intentional and repeated misgendering of Rep. Zephyr, is blatantly disrespectful and the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘commitment to civil discourse’ that these letter writers demand,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said in a statement. “I find it incredibly ironic that these legislators are making demands of others that they refuse to abide by themselves.”
Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella, chair of the Montana Freedom Caucus, did not immediately respond to emailed questions Wednesday.
Madison Atkinson, the spokesperson for the House Republicans, did not say whether House leadership planned to act on the caucus’ request.
“House Leadership is focused on maintaining decorum on the House floor, and the integrity of the Montana House of Representatives while serving the people of Montana,” she said in a statement.
The exchange on the House floor and the caucus response is an example of the polarization seen in legislatures around the country as they debate bills affecting the transgender community.
Earlier this month in Kansas, House lawmakers overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning transgender female athletes from girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college. Two LGBTQ+ Democratic lawmakers were upset because they believed Republicans were gloating over the vote.
Rep. Heather Meyer, who also has a transgender son, stood, opened her jacket and displayed a “Protect Trans Youth” T-shirt before making a rude gesture as she left the chamber. Rep. Susan Ruiz yelled at GOP members, briefly cursing at them before being told she was out of order.
In a number of states, transgender people who have testified against legislation that target their rights have been met with demeaning questions and rhetoric from Republican lawmakers.
Zephyr began her comments Tuesday by criticizing a letter from the governor explaining his proposed amendments to the gender-affirming care bill. In it, the governor said he had met with transgender residents and said Montanans who struggle with gender identity deserve love, compassion and respect.
“That’s not what trans Montanans need from you,” Zephyr said. “We need access to the medical care that saves our lives.”
“I stand by my accurate description of the devastating consequences of banning essential medical care for transgender youth,” Zephyr’s statement said. The gender-affirming care ban “is part of an alarming trend of anti-trans legislation in our state, which includes over a dozen unconstitutional bills. These bills ban our art forms, our stories, our healthcare, and our very existence in Montana code.”
The legislature has considered a bill that sought to ban drag story hours, but it has been amended. It has passed a bill saying it’s not illegal discrimination for a school student to misgender or deadname a fellow student, unless it rises to the level of bullying. The legislature also is moving another bill to put a binary definition of male and female into state code.
Zephyr said Tuesday that lawmakers and the governor had received a letter from an emergency room physician who said a transgender teenager cited the legislature’s actions as the reason for their suicide attempt. “My state doesn’t want me,” the doctor reported the patient as having said.
The House and Senate gave final approval to the governor’s amendments Wednesday. The bill will now go to the governor for his signature.
Associated Press writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.