Montana House speaker silences trans lawmaker for 2nd day

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A transgender Montana lawmaker was silenced for a second day Friday as her Republican colleagues refused to let her speak on the chamber’s floor until she apologizes for saying lawmakers would have “blood on their hands" if they passed a law to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

The standoff is expected to continue next week, with neither side ready to back down.

The bill at the heart of the issue is in the hands of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who has indicated he will sign it.

Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr sought to speak on a bill Friday that would prevent minors from seeing pornography online, but the chair blocked the request and House Speaker Matt Regier asked lawmakers to uphold the decision he made a day earlier not to recognize her requests to speak.

“I’m still going to expect the same standard for all representatives in this House. I’m still going to stand for the dignity and integrity of this House,” Regier said. He said earlier that the silencing was necessary to “maintain decorum."

The Republican majority in the House upheld his decision, as they did on Thursday.

Zephyr and House Minority Leader Kim Abbott have said Regier won't allow her to speak on bills until she apologizes.

“It sounds like currently the speaker has made his intent clear,” Zephyr said after Friday's floor session.

Zephyr said she would continue to request to speak on legislation, “because I was elected to represent my constituents and speak on their behalf.” If she is denied, she said, the Democrats will ask the House to vote on the decision.

The Legislature is expected to adjourn in early May.

Regier first shut down Zephyr on Thursday, when she wanted to comment on a bill seeking to put a binary definition of male and female into state code. The speaker also declined to recognize her on a second bill.

The issue came to a head Tuesday when Zephyr, the first transgender woman to hold a position in the Montana legislature, referenced the floor session’s opening prayer when she told lawmakers if they supported the bill to band gender-affirming care for minors, “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”

She had made a similar comment when the House debated the bill the first time.

Conservative lawmakers, who demanded she be censured for her comments, deliberately misgendered her, using male pronouns when referring to her.

“Hate-filled testimony has no place on the House floor,” Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle, a member of the Montana Freedom Caucus that demanded the censure, said in a statement.

Zephyr said she stands by what she said about the consequences of banning essential medical care for transgender youth.

The bill would prohibit transgender minors in Montana from receiving puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or surgical procedures. Those are treatments for gender dysphoria, the clinically significant distress caused by feeling that one’s gender identity does not match one’s biological sex. Medical professionals who provided such care would lose their medical licenses for at least a year.

“When there are bills targeting the LGBTQ community, I stand up to defend my community,” Zephyr said. “And I choose my words with clarity and precision and I spoke to the real harms that these bills bring.”

The legislature has also passed a bill stating a student misgendering or deadnaming a fellow student is not illegal discrimination, unless it rises to the level of bullying. Deadnaming is calling a transgender person by their previous name when they have changed their name as part of their gender transition.

At the end of Friday's House session, Democratic Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy asked for a definition of the integrity and dignity of the House.

“As has been said before, this House will move forward with dignity and integrity, which means there will be no belittling of people's votes or belittling of people's motives,” Regier said. “We will keep it to the issues at hand, and if you cannot follow that, you will not be recognized.”

Regier refused to speak with an Associated Press reporter after the floor session.