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(Headline USA) Transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr was barred from participating on the Montana House floor after disrupting floor debate and helping to orchestrate an attempted insurrection at the state capitol in Helena.
Republican leaders voted Wednesday to expel Zephyr for the rest of 2023 session after Zephyr rejected GOP leaders’ earlier requirement to apologize for outbursts that violated legislative protocols and decorum.
The punishment of the freshman lawmaker caps a weeklong standoff between House Democrats and Republicans after Zephyr told colleagues last week, you will “see the blood on your hands” over votes to ban transgender-affirming genital mutilation and sterilization treatments for children.
House Speaker Matt Regier and other Republicans said Zephyr’s remark was far outside the boundaries of appropriate civil discourse and demanded Zephyr apologize before being allowed to participate in legislative discussions.
“There needs to be some consequences for what he [Zephyr] has been doing,” said Rep. Joe Read.
The events have showcased the growing power of the Montana Freedom Caucus—a group of at least 21 conservative lawmakers, including Read, that has spearheaded the charge to discipline Zephyr.
“They picked me in this moment because I said a thing that got through their shield for a second,” Zephyr told a crowd of supporters gathered on the capitol steps near a banner that read “Democracy dies here.”
But the Freedom Caucus re-upped its demands Monday, saying in a statement that Zephyr’s decision to hoist a microphone toward the gallery’s protesters amounted to “encouraging an insurrection.”
Zephyr will still be able to vote remotely under terms of the punishment.
In a defiant speech Wednesday before colleagues voted, Zephyr addressed Regier directly and said the purpose of the protest was to take a stand for the LGBT community, Zephyr’s constituents in Missoula and “democracy itself.”
Zephyr accused Regier of taking away the voices of 11,000 constituents and attempting to drive “a nail in the coffin of democracy.”
“If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, then all you’re doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression,” Zephyr said.
For the past week, Zephyr has been forbidden from speaking on the House floor.
The House speaker had previously said he would not allow Zephyr to speak until Zephyr apologized, which Zephyr refused to do.
Zephyr’s remarks, and the Republican response, set off a chain of events that culminated in a riot outside the capitol at noon Monday. Protesters later packed into the gallery at the statehouse and brought House proceedings to a halt while chanting “Let her [sic] speak.”
Read said Zephyr gave a signal to supporters just before Monday’s session was disrupted. He declined to say what that was other than a “strange movement.”
“When she [sic] gave the signal for protestors to go into action, I would say that’s when decorum was incredibly broken,” Read noted.
Regier canceled Tuesday’s floor session without explanation and called the disruptions a “dark day for Montana.”
“Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debates while following the House rules,” Regier told reporters Tuesday.
“The choice to not follow the House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made,” he added. “The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. The Montana House will not be bullied.”
Such a protest won’t be allowed to happen on Wednesday. Republican leaders said in the letter to Zephyr that the gallery will be closed “to maintain decorum and ensure safety.”
Although several of the rioters resisted law enforcement officers trying to arrest them on Monday, Zephyr called the demonstration peaceful.
“It was chanting, but it absolutely was not violent,” Zephyr said. “Sometimes extreme measures have a response like this.”
The sideshow spectacle mirrored the recent attack on the Tennessee statehouse weeks ago—where state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled after leading an insurrection that followed a transgender mass-murderer’s targeting of three adults and three children at a Christian school in Nashville.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press