Transgender Lawmaker Goes After State House Over Censure

Montana Democrat Rep. Zooey Zephyr is taking her own state and its House Speaker, Matt Regier, to court over her recent censure by Republicans in the state House.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in state court, alleges that the House Republicans, including Speaker Matt Regier, violated Zephyrs rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and disenfranchised the 11,000 Montanans that she was elected to represent when they voted to prevent her from participating in legislative debate.

The censure came after Zephyr, one of the states first openly transgender lawmakers, said lawmakers who voted to pass a bill to ban genderaffirming health care for transgender youths would haveblood on their hands.

House Republicans immediately following her remarks demanded she be censured for attempting to shame members of the Legislature by usinginappropriate and uncalledfor language.

The lawsuit argues that the Legislature took retaliatory and unlawful action against Zephyr for engaging in speech protected under federal law. It also claims that House Republicans have denied Zephyr and her constituents of their rights to participate in the legislative process.

Voters elect their Representatives to do more than simply vote on bills, the lawsuit states.Representatives also are elected to use of the floor of the House to pursue their constituents interests and views using the platform provided by the Peoples House to educate and persuade their colleagues and the public through speech, debate, and lobbying.

Defendants lawless silencing and Censure of Representative Zooey Zephyr extinguishes a vital part of the job her constituents elected her to do, it adds.

In response to the suit, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said in a statement,This is performance litigation political activism masquerading as a lawsuit. The ACLU is trying to use the courts to interfere with the legislature as it carries out its constitutional duties on behalf of Montanans. Any relief granted by the court would be a gross violation of the separation of powers.

Zephyr, however, is determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard.House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself, the lawmaker said in a statement released by her attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.

It remains to be seen how the court will rule in the case, but regardless of the outcome, it is clear that the censure of Zephyr has sparked a larger debate about the rights of marginalized communities and their ability to participate in the political process.


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