Who is Zooey Zephyr, the transgender lawmaker banned from her own House in Montana?

April 28, 2023

State Representative Zooey Zephyr became a lawmaker to make a difference, she said. Specifically, she wanted to stop House legislators in Montana from passing anti-LGBTQ bills, reports The Washington Post.

Now, the Montana legislature has voted to discipline her for her conduct on the floor of the House earlier this week. Republicans banned her from the actual House —she can only attend sessions remotely until this legislative session concludes next week.

House leadership and Zephyr have been locked in a battle since April 18, when Zephyr made a fervent plea to her GOP colleagues to reject a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender children in Montana. Republicans, who passed the bill and sent it to Republican Governor Greg Gianforte to sign, protested, saying the words Zephyr chose were “hateful.”

Since then, House leaders have not allowed Zephyr to speak in the chamber, which led to protests there on Monday, April 24.

The bill under debate, Senate Bill 99, titled the Youth Health Protection Act by its Republican sponsors, would ban several kinds of gender-affirming care for transgender children, including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery needed to treat minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

The bill also would threaten gender-affirming care providers with a year-long suspension and potential legal liability. It would prohibit the state’s Medicaid program from paying for any surgical procedures or medication needed for gender-affirming care for transgender children. The state health department said earlier this year that Montana’s Medicaid program had spent nearly $1.4 million since 2015 to cover medication treatment for gender dysphoria for children, averaging about $173,000 a year, according to the Associated Press.

 Zephyr, 34, was elected in 2022—making her the first openly transgender person to be elected to the state legislature in Montana. She has said she wanted to become a lawmaker in 2021 when the Montana legislature passed three bills that restricted LGBTQ rights in one week.

 One of the bills prevented transgender people from updating their birth certificates without undergoing gender-affirming surgery. It passed narrowly (26-24).

She told The Washington Post earlier this year that she remembers thinking that if she had been in the room when the bill passed, “I could have changed that heart. I could have been the difference there.”

That was the day she tweeted that she would be running for office.

Before she was elected, Zephyr managed the curriculum and program review process at the University of Montana. The lawmaker also teaches the Lindy Hop, a swing-era dance, in Missoula. She used to play on intramural soccer teams at the university.

Zephyr told the Post that the legislation in Montana did not reflect her own experience in Missoula, where she has been embraced by her community.

“[Missoula] took care of me when I was going through my transition,” she said. “The sense of community here is magical.”

If the governor signs Senate Bill 99 into law, it would take effect on October 1.

Research contact: @washingtonpost