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Lawmakers in Montana's House vote to punish transgender lawmaker Rep. Zephyr

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This next story takes us to Montana, where the Republican-dominated state legislature voted to bar a transgender lawmaker from the floor.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democrat Zooey Zephyr is the first transgender woman elected to Montana's Legislature. She made comments about Republicans with blood on their hands, then seemed to encourage protesters. Republicans said she violated their rules and voted against her, even though a son of Montana's conservative governor spoke up, coming out as nonbinary and opposing the Legislature's anti-trans legislation.

MARTIN: Joining us now is the reporter who broke that story, Montana Free Press's Mara Silvers. Mara, good morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARA SILVERS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with the punishment imposed upon the transgender lawmaker. What happened?

SILVERS: Yeah, so the Republican supermajority in the Montana House voted to bar Democrat Zooey Zephyr from the House floor for the rest of the session. She'll still be able to vote on bills, but she won't be allowed to participate in any debate on them.

MARTIN: And why do the Republicans or the leadership say this needed to happen, that she needed to be punished in this way?

SILVERS: Basically, they say she was egging on protesters in the House gallery on Monday who were there demonstrating on her behalf. And the protesters were there because Republicans had blocked Zephyr from speaking on the floor for several days after they accused her of shaming lawmakers over a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors. Zephyr had alluded to the bill as increasing suicide risks for trans people and said lawmakers who voted for it would see blood on their hands. So while protesters were chanting, let her speak, in the gallery earlier this week, Zephyr was standing out on the floor, holding her microphone in the air. Police cleared the public out. Seven people were arrested. And Republicans say that Zephyr's engagement helped incite that disruption.

MARTIN: What does Zephyr say about that? What's her response been to this, and have there been other responses?

SILVERS: Yeah, she really disagrees that her actions are the problem here. She says Republicans were the ones who brought these bills targeting trans people and barred her from speaking about their impact in the first place. And Democrats have said Republicans are applying rules about decorum unevenly and that this discipline route really undermines democracy by sanctioning a representative who's been trying to speak on behalf of her constituents.

MARTIN: Tell me about the makeup of the Legislature. You said earlier there's a Republican supermajority, right?

SILVERS: Right. Republicans have a supermajority, and they hold the governor's office for the first time in 16 years. The opposition to the bills targeting trans people has been quite vocal, but the bills are expected to pass and be signed into law. But yesterday, one of the people who started really speaking out publicly about their opposition was actually a member of Governor Greg Gianforte's own family.

MARTIN: You reported that the governor's son David Gianforte, who lives in Montana, identifies as nonbinary, uses he and they pronouns and decided to go public with their story. Why did they decide to go public?

SILVERS: Yeah, David told me that they'd kind of reached a personal turning point in their own political journey on this. They've been tracking these bills all session, and he says that they'll have a harmful effect on some of his own friends and community members. So David started lobbying the governor to veto these bills about a month ago, and the governor hasn't signed or vetoed the gender-affirming care ban that's kind of at the root of this issue. It's on his desk, and that action could come any day now.

MARTIN: Mara Silvers is a reporter for Montana Free Press. Mara, thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.

SILVERS: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.