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Seven Arrested After Protesting in Montana State House on Behalf of Transgender Representative Zooey Zephyr

The House Speaker said the ‘riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff’

Seven people involved in a protest that stopped a proceeding on the Montana House floor have been charged with criminal trespassing. 

Protestors refused to leave the chamber’s gallery while chanting in support of Representative Zooey Zephyr, a transgender-identifying Democrat who was not permitted to speak following controversial comments the elected official made last week.

While speaking from the floor for the first time, Zephyr graphically condemned Montana Republicans while debating a bill regulating the medical procedures offered to minors who express gender dysphoria or who identify as transgender.

“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed,” Zephyr said on April 18, per CNN. “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.”

House Majority Leader Su Vinto immediately interjected. She said, “We can debate matters civilly and with respect for each other.”

The Montana Freedom Caucus called for Zephyr to be censured for the remark and “attempting to shame the Montana legislative body by using inappropriate and uncalled-for language during a floor debate over amendments concerning Senate Bill 99 – to ban sex changes of minor children.”

“While individual legislators have condemned his behavior, the legislature itself has not yet issued a collective statement acknowledging the wrongdoing and upholding a commitment to civil discourse,” the caucus wrote in an April 18 statement. “This kind of hateful rhetoric from an elected official is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred.”

“Combined with former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson’s recent calls for ‘jihad’ and a ‘fight to the death,’ there is unmistakable evidence of a desire for some to engage in violence over political beliefs. This must stop,” the group said.

Zephyr subsequently told CNN that the Republican Speaker of the House Matt Regier refused to acknowledge Zephyr’s request to speak on other bills during the following days. Zephyr also remained resolute and reaffirmed the statement.

“I stand by my accurate description of the devastating consequences of banning essential medical care for transgender youth,” said Zephyr on April 21. “(A)s long as I am a member of the Montana Legislature, I will never stop fighting for trans people in our state.”

On April 24, about a hundred people gathered at the steps of the capitol to object to the proposed censure and Regier’s actions. 

The crowd chanted “Let her speak” and held a banner that read “Democracy dies here.”

When the building opened at 1 PM for the legislative session, the crowd entered the chamber and was reminded by Regier that “no cheering, booing, signs, noises of any kind” is permitted in the gallery. The House voted 63-43 to uphold Regier’s decision not to honor Zephyr’s request to comment on Senate Bill 518 during the proceeding.

The vote sparked serious agitation from the crowd, which began chanting “Let her speak!” and later “Whose house? Our house!” 

According to KTVH:

Regier pounded his gavel, called several times for order, and then directed the sergeant-at-arms to clear the gallery. He told House members to move to the sides of the chamber.

Eventually, most Republicans in the House left the floor. Most Democrats remained at the side of the chamber. Zephyr remained at her desk throughout the protest, holding her microphone over her head.

Videos of the protest shared on Twitter show Zephyr’s supporters banging on the doors of the gallery. In another, an arrested protestor argues with a police officer for failing to use Zephyr’s preferred pronouns.

Montana Highway Patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers attempted to remove protesters who refused to leave the gallery. Ultimately, the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Civil Disobedience Team – wearing protective gear and carrying batons – entered the chamber and cleared the gallery. The disruption lasted approximately 15 minutes.

Six of the people arrested are from Missoula, which is in Zephyr’s district, and one is from Great Falls. 

In a statement released after the protest, Zephyr said, “My constituents and community members witnessed my microphone being disabled” and “courageously came forward to defend their democratic right to be heard.”

“I stood by them in solidarity and will continue to do so,” said Zephyr. “As an elected representative, I am devoted to supporting those who speak in defense of democracy, as it is my duty to ensure their voices are heard and respected.”

Regier’s office released a statement condemning the violence and reaffirming its commitment to “civil debate and respect for our process of government.”

“Today’s riot by far-left agitators damages our discourse and endangered legislators and staff,” said the House Speaker. “Their actions did not represent Montana’s values. We want to thank our law enforcement for maintaining order and protecting the safety of everyone at the Capitol.”

“House Leadership will stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order,” Regier added. “We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena.”

The protest comes about three weeks after gun-control advocates disrupted legislative proceedings on the floor of the Tennessee House after chanting from the gallery. No one who took part in the incident is facing charges. 

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