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Montana judge denies state Rep. Zooey Zephyr's bid to return to the House floor

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Montana's House of Representatives adjourned its session this week without State Representative Zooey Zephyr in the chamber.

ZOOEY ZEPHYR: I feel like the world looked and saw that Montana and the GOP here were doing cruel and unconstitutional things, and I'm feeling determined to stand up and fight.

FADEL: Zephyr is transgender and delivered a forceful warning to Republicans, telling them they would have blood on their hands for blocking gender-affirming health care for kids. And while she was allowed to vote, the GOP majority voted to silence and banish her as a disciplinary measure for encouraging a loud protest in the House gallery. Just hours after the session gaveled to a close, a judge rejected a lawsuit Zephyr and others had filed on free speech grounds. We called up Representative Zephyr to hear what's ahead for her.

ZEPHYR: What's next right now is figuring out how we take this understanding that people are beginning to see, like, how far the GOP will go to achieve their ideological goals. What will they throw away? And that being democracy - and trying to work with myself and other legislators and activists across the country to say, how do we take this understanding and let people know that if they stand up, if they work hard, that we can protect our democracy against these kinds of attacks?

FADEL: Do you see a pattern - I'm thinking of Tennessee, then you - where someone who was elected to represent voters is silenced because of a protest?

ZEPHYR: Yes. Whether that's me standing up in defense of trans rights out here, Representative Mauree Turner in Oklahoma doing the same, whether it's the Tennessee Three standing up against gun violence and saying these bills, these policies, this legislature's actions or inactions are getting people killed, when we stand up and call out that harm - it's not enough for lawmakers on the far right to get the bills passed. What they're demanding is silence, and they're demanding us to be complicit in that harm. And young lawmakers are standing up and saying, no. We won't do that, and our communities are standing behind us.

FADEL: Now, technically, you did break the rules. What's the right thing to do? Should there be some type of consequence?

ZEPHYR: So I want to clarify that the rules of decorum are utilized by a legislature that gets to decide what is and what isn't by the majority vote. And so we have seen the application of decorum used undemocratically. We have seen legislators insinuate that my existence itself as a trans person is somehow sexualizing children. And they were not censured. They were not removed. So what we're seeing is the way in which the tools of the democratic institution, the tools of the legislative body, are wielded by a supermajority to enforce silence.

FADEL: What are the stakes at this moment?

ZEPHYR: So for my community, the trans community, the bills that are coming forward, the stakes are our lives. These bills harm us. They take away the health care we need to live vibrant, happy lives, to have that pursuit of happiness. And they also - the increased amount of legislation against us creates an environment where people feel emboldened to harm us. But broadly, what we're seeing across the country is what's at stake is democracy. What's at stake are the very first principles of our country.

FADEL: Democrat Zooey Zephyr represents the city of Missoula in the Montana House of Representatives.

Thank you so much for your time.

ZEPHYR: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.