Judge Rejects Zooey Zephyr’s Effort to Return to Montana House Floor

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A judge ruled on Tuesday against a Montana legislator who had sought a court order allowing her to return to the House of Representatives after she was barred during an escalating standoff over her remarks on transgender issues.

The lawmaker, Representative Zooey Zephyr, was ousted from the Republican-controlled chamber last week after making impassioned comments against a ban on hormone treatments and surgical care for transgender minors. The remarks led Republicans to silence her during debates on other legislation, prompting protests and arrests.

Ms. Zephyr, a Democrat from Missoula who is transgender, filed the lawsuit on Monday arguing that her rights had been violated, along with those of her 11,000 constituents. “I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard,” she posted on Twitter. A spokeswoman for the state’s Republican attorney general called the legal action “political activism masquerading as a lawsuit.”

Judge Mike Menahan, who served in the House as a Democrat before being elected to the state’s First District Court a decade ago, said in a five-page order issued late Tuesday that he did not have the authority to intervene in the legislative dispute, essentially agreeing with arguments put forth by the state’s attorney general.

Montana is one of several states where Republican lawmakers have sought this year to prohibit hormone treatments and surgical care for transgender minors. About 1.3 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States identify as transgender, and efforts to restrict what is known as gender-affirming care have thrust them into one of the nation’s most pitched political battles.

Republican legislators have characterized transition care as harmful and experimental, saying that people under 18 are not mature enough to make permanent decisions. But major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support this care and say that bans pose serious mental health risks to young people.

The increase in state legislation is also part of a long-term campaign by national conservative organizations that see transgender rights as an issue around which they can harness some voters’ anger, and raise money.

During an April 18 debate in the House, Ms. Zephyr said that denying transition care to minors would be “tantamount to torture” and that if Republicans passed the bill, they would see “blood on your hands.”

Republican lawmakers condemned her for using “hateful rhetoric,” and the House speaker, Matt Regier, said he would not allow her to speak again until she had apologized. The clash led to protests on the Capitol steps on April 24, and Ms. Zephyr’s supporters crowded the House gallery, shouting, “Let her speak!” Mr. Regier ordered the gallery cleared, and police officers moved in with batons and face shields. Seven people were arrested.

Members of the conservative Montana Freedom Caucus accused Ms. Zephyr, who held her microphone aloft in the House chamber as her supporters were ordered to disperse, of “standing in the middle of the floor encouraging an insurrection.”

The state’s legislative session is set to end on Friday. Montana lawmakers are working to finalize the state budget and have also been considering other bills related to gender identity, including one that could bar public school students from changing their pronouns without parental permission.

The ban on transition care for minors that Ms. Zephyr argued against was approved by lawmakers and signed last week by Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican.


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