Montana House Republicans on Wednesday voted to censure Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
All 68 House Republicans voted to censure Zephyr, while the body’s 32 Democrats voted against it.
Zephyr, one of the state’s first openly transgender lawmakers, will be barred from the House floor, anteroom and gallery for the remainder of the session. She has the option to participate remotely, but only by voting.
Zephyr has been unable to speak on a bill for more than a week after she said lawmakers who voted to pass a measure preventing transgender youths from accessing gender-affirming health care would have “blood on your hands.”
The Montana Freedom Caucus, a coalition of state House and Senate Republicans, responded by calling for Zephyr’s immediate censure, accusing her of attempting to shame members of the legislature by using “inappropriate and uncalled-for language.”
“This kind of hateful rhetoric from an elected official is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred,” the group wrote last week in a statement, referring to a mass shooting in Tennessee last month that left six people dead, including three 9-year-old students.
Local authorities immediately after the shooting said they believed the suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who was fatally shot by police, was transgender. Nearly a month later, Hale’s gender identity remains unclear.
The Montana Freedom Caucus in its statement also repeatedly misgendered Zephyr by referring to her using male pronouns.
Demonstrators gathered Monday at the state capitol building in Helena to protest the continued silencing of Zephyr. Seven were arrested for criminal trespass after shouts of “Let her speak!” and “Whose House? Our House!” from the gallery drowned out legislative debate on the floor.
House Republicans characterized Monday’s protest as a “riot by far-right agitators.” The House gallery on Wednesday was closed to the public.
On Wednesday, Montana Republicans argued that Zephyr incited and “actively participated in disrupting the lawful activities” of the state legislature.
“This conduct cannot be allowed to stand,” Republican Rep. Sue Vinton, who sponsored the motion to censure Zephyr, said Wednesday.
“I find that there’s been a pattern of unwillingness to listen to a diverse set of opinions on the bills in front of us, and that is our job,” Democratic Rep. SJ Howell, who is transgender nonbinary, said during Wednesday’s floor session.
“There are deeply held disagreements about the bills that we hear, about the policies that we are debating, and those disagreements are part of the process,” they said. “We have to be able to discuss them, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
Zephyr on Wednesday defended her words, which she said accurately captured the gravity of the bill’s consequences.
“When I rose up and said there is blood on your hands, I was not being hyperbolic. I was speaking of the real consequences of the votes that we legislators take in this body,” she said.
“And when the speaker asks me to apologize on behalf of decorum, what he’s really asking me to do is be silent, when my community is facing bills that get us killed.”
“He’s asking me to be complicit in this legislature’s eradication of our community, and I refuse to do so,” she said. “I will always refuse to do so.”
Updated at 4:15 p.m.