The Montana House of Representatives came to a halt Monday after a crowd of transgender activists flooded the public gallery and shouted down the speaker.
Demonstrators chanted “let her speak” after lawmakers refused to lift a censure on Democrat Rep. Zooey Zephyr over spewing hate-filled comments on the House floor last week. Zephyr, a first-term representative from Missoula and the first transgender-identified member of the lower chamber, mocked Republican prayers during debate on a bill to ban medical interventions for minors with gender dysphoria.
“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.
The bill in question ultimately cleared the chamber.
Republicans revoked Zephyr’s ability to speak on the House floor until issuing an apology.
“It is up to me to maintain decorum here on the House floor, to protect the dignity and integrity,” said House Speaker Matt Regier last week, according to the Associated Press. “Any representative that I don’t feel can do that will not be recognized.”
“Hate-filled testimony has no place on the House floor,” said Republican Rep. Caleb Hinkle, who serves on the House Freedom Caucus, which introduced the measure to censure Zephyr.
Mob demonstrators descended on the Capitol Monday to demand the lower chamber reinstate debate privileges. The crowd erupted after lawmakers voted again to keep Zephyr quiet when the freshman representative tried to speak on a bill restricting child pronoun changes in K-12 classrooms. Speaker Regier refused to acknowledge the chamber’s censured colleague igniting a roar of interruption from the gallery. Lawmakers were forced to pause proceedings as police in riot gear arrested disruptors, according to Montana Public Radio.
Zephyr defended those arrested outside the statehouse.
“My constituents and community came up and shouted ‘let her speak’ — I felt pride in them,” Zephyr said. “Because when they stood up, they are standing on behalf of democracy.”
The scenes on day three of the saga at the Montana Capitol come weeks after transgender activists stormed the Tennessee statehouse at Nashville over similar legislation. The “insurrection,” as defined by an assault on a Capitol building, was led by a trio of Democrat lawmakers who were stripped of their committee assignments. Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were temporarily expelled from the legislature for using a bullhorn amid the demonstrations. Both were reinstated by local officials.