A quick note on the MT Freedom Caucus, Zooey Zephyr and free speech
Welcome to Big Sky Chat House— a newsletter about movers and shakers in Montana.
Hey Chat House fam. I hope you’re well, and to those who celebrated, I wish you a happy belated 4/20.
I want to quickly address the recent treatment of Montana Democratic Representative Zooey Zephyr, who has faced attacks from members of the Montana Republican Party over her criticism of Senate Bill 99, which would ban gender-affirming care for minors.
Speaking in front of her colleagues on Tuesday, April 18, Rep. Zephyr, a trans woman, told lawmakers “If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed.” She added that “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’s words alluded to the potential of suicide among minors who are legally unable to access gender-affirming care. And, sure, some may have found the graphic nature of her speech startling, but members of the GOP responded with nothing short of malice. In a letter calling for her censure, the Montana Freedom Caucus intentionally misgendered her and said that her “hateful” speech could incite a school shooting.
For those wondering whether the letter marked a one-off display of the caucus members’ ignorant and spiteful rhetoric, I would direct you to Senator Theresa Manzella, who has said that feeling threatened or discriminated against is a “normal consequence” for same-sex couples that hold hands in public, or Rep. Braxton Mitchell, who spread false claims that the Uvalde, Texas school shooter was a trans person and has liberally tossed around homophobic slurs on Twitter.
In an alarming development, the day after Rep. Zephyr’s speech, the Speaker of the House, Matt Regier, citing a breach of decorum, banned her from voting or speaking on the House floor until she apologizes for her remarks. Rep. Zephyr has made clear she has no intention of doing so.
I know that many readers of this newsletter are themselves uneasy about, or oppose, gender-affirming care for minors, or for any person. I’m not here to debate you, or to shame you. I do, however, hope that you will consider the ramifications of Speaker Regier and his party’s actions: those of a political party willing to silence the voice of one of their own colleagues—and, in effect, the voters who elected them—when they disagree with their choice of words.
While I find the rhetoric of the Freedom Caucus—to say nothing of Speaker Regier’s father, state Senator Keith Regier, who has paid homage to Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels on the Senate floor and compared women to cows—to be revolting, I believe they’re well within their rights to express it. Their gross and mean-spirited language, however, illuminates the stark hypocrisy at play. The GOP’s unwillingness to call it out within their own party makes their attack on Representative Zephyr all the more cowardly and absurd.
Big Sky Chat House stands in support of free speech, and thus stands with Representative Zooey Zephyr.