Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester used a tweet Friday to defend a transgender Montana state lawmaker who told Republicans earlier this month they have “blood on (their) hands.”
“I served in the Montana legislature for years, working with everyone to get things done for Montana,” Tester wrote in a tweet, offering defense for Democratic state Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
“Let’s be clear: Banning a duly-elected representative is an extreme, undemocratic step that harms the thousands of Montanans who no longer have a voice in their government,”
Earlier this month, amid the legislature’s efforts to pass amendments to a bill that would prohibit sex change treatments for minors in the state, Zephyr told Republicans in the House that they have “blood on (their) hands.”
“The only thing I will say is 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,” Zephyr said.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester defended transgender Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who told Republicans earlier this month that they have “blood on (their) hands.” (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images, AP Photo/Tommy Martino)
Accompanying Tester’s tweet was a portion of a radio interview he took part in to discuss the situation and defend Zephyr, the first transgender state lawmaker in Montana history.
“What I would rather have us make national news for is keeping 11 rest homes open that are closing, making steps to make child care affordable or homeownership affordable,” said Tester, who’s seeking re-election in 2024. “Barring a duly represented representative who, quite frankly, represents thousands of Montanans is extreme. I think it’s undemocratic.”
Zephyr’s remarks led to the lawmaker being censured and barred from the House floor for the rest of the 2023 session after Republican lawmakers accused Zephyr of presenting “hate-filled testimony” while debating Senate Bill 99.
Afterward, Republican Speaker Matt Regier refused to acknowledge Zephyr, who wanted to speak on a separate bill aiming to put a binary definition of male and female into the state code.
“It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity,” Regier said. “And any representative that I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized.”
Regier said the decision to not allow Zephyr to speak came after “multiple discussions” with other lawmakers, adding that there have been similar issues. Zephyr hasn’t been allowed to speak on the House floor since.
State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, alone on the house floor, stands in protest as demonstrators are arrested in the house gallery April 24, 2023, in the Montana State Capitol in Helena. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)
Zephyr was notified Tuesday night that House leaders would consider disciplinary action, according to a Twitter post by the lawmaker. On Wednesday, lawmakers voted to ban Zephyr from the House floor for the rest of the 2023 session.
“I have been informed that during tomorrow’s floor session there will be a motion to either censure or expel me. I’ve also been told I’ll get a chance to speak. I will do as I have always done — rise on behalf of my constituents, in defense of my community, & for democracy itself,” Zephyr said.
Since being barred from the House floor for the remainder of the legislative session, Zephyr has continued working outside of the chamber in a public seating area.
“Though they initially tried to have me removed from the public seating area, I am here working on behalf of my constituents as best I can given the undemocratic circumstances,” Zephyr wrote in a tweet Thursday. “I’m talking to legislators, listening to debate, voting on bills, and fighting for democracy.”
In another photo shared by Zephyr Friday, the lawmaker was shown sitting outside of a closed-door hearing.
“Republicans used a series of procedures to remove every bill from my committees, silencing my constituents beyond what they already voted to do,” Zephyr captioned the post. “My constituents elected me to speak on their behalf — in committee & on the floor — and stopping me from doing so is anti-democratic.”