Zooey Zephyr, 33, was in New York City when she interviewed with HollywoodLife. And she seemed at home there as we spoke in August, ahead of the monumentally important midterm elections. But the Missoula, Montana candidate, who is running as a Democrat for State House District 100 in Missoula, has work to do back home — a lot of it. “It feels like oftentimes you are caring, tending to wounds left by individuals acting cruelly,” said Zephyr, 33, who is an outspoken member of the trans community and a first-time candidate. Or a government, she says, “whether through negligence or malice, [that] has hurt a group of people. And in the queer community that has historically been the case, and it feels like that.”
Zooey, 33, works as the Program Manager at the University of Montana’s provost’s office, managing the administration of the curriculum approval process, overseeing the program and center review process, and handling the departmental unit standards review process. She says she’s been an activist in the trans community since 2020, which makes her relatively new to politics. She’s endorsed in her candidacy by Run For Something.
By 2021, as she expanded her efforts, it was clear to her that Montana needed to make some changes. “In 2021, watching how the right was attacking queer folks, I went and I testified before the legislature,” she explained. “I met with the Governor’s [Greg Gianforte, Republican] office, going in to lobby for trans rights in Montana. And it was like talking to a group of people who had their ears closed. They didn’t want to hear it.”
Zooey counts herself lucky on one point — she describes her resident city, Missoula, as “liberal, a very progressive city.” “I had been working with the city of Missoula on human rights legislation to try and to help the city,” she said. “I was seeing a lot of support for human rights in my town.” But, she noted, “at the state level, it wasn’t.” And that concerned her.
She recounted a pivotal moment — the very moment that drove her to run for office. “I was tracking all those bills going through the legislature,” she said. “And on March 1 of 2021, I saw a handful of them go through and pass. I watched two bills in particular pass with one vote margins in the senate. And I remember thinking, ‘I could’ve made a difference there. I know damn well that I could’ve changed the heart if I had access to these people the way the legislators do. The left in Montana was doing ok fighting for queer rights. But to watch two anti-trans bills pass by one vote and not have a trans person in the room. That was it for me.”
Those two bills, Zooey explains, were SB 215 (the RFRA: a “Religious Freedom” act that allowed for discrimination against LGBTQ people), and SB 280, which she describes as “a bill placing extreme restrictions on trans people updating their birth certificates.” Both these bills passed in the senate 26-24.
Zooey didn’t waste any time. The soft-spoken, articulate Democrat immediately took to social media to make a public statement. “I turned out a tweet that day that said ‘we need trans representation. I’m going to run.” Zooey says her area, District 100, “covers two main neighborhoods. The ‘slant streets’ and the east half of ‘Franklin to the fort’ in Missoula,” she explained. “That said, it could also be said that the district covers the area west of the University of Montana, and south of downtown. They are neighborhoods with largely single-family homes, and a split of about 40/60 renters/home owners.”
When asked, she had a fascinating explanation for the “slant streets.”The slant streets are so hard to explain to non-Missoulians,” she said, indicating that she knows the history of her town. “Basically it’s a section of town where the streets are all at 45 degree angles from the rest of the grid system due to some old grudges when Missoula was just starting out.”
After defeating Dave Severson in the Democratic primary on June 7, 2022, she’s now ready to face off with her Republican opponent, Sean Patrick McCoy — also a first-time-candidate — in the November 8 mid-term elections. As a Libertarian, Michael Vanecek is also competing. When asked about what her Republican opponent stands for, Zooey seemed to indicate that he didn’t have “much information” released. “I cannot speak much about my opponent, as we have only had one brief conversation, and as far as I am aware, his campaign has not pushed out much information regarding policy,” she said.
She’s correct; a search on McCoy yielded very little information on his campaign or his stances. Zooey, on the other hand, is quite clear on where she’s coming from. Per her campaign website, she describes herself as “a progressive, bisexual trans woman, and I am running for office because I believe that the best way for me to fight for social & economic justice is to get into the room where the laws are being written.”
The office Zooey plans to fill was formerly held by a Democrat, Andrea Olsen, who has termed out and is now running for Senate District 50. “House District 100 is one of the bluest districts in the state, and in its previous election went 82-18 for the Democrat,” she told HollywoodLife.
Zooey’s causes go above and beyond Montana. As the interview unfolded, it inevitably touched on the ending of Roe V. Wade. “It’s unspeakable and it’s been on their agenda,” she said of June decision. “It’s been clearly the strategy. I was on a conference about abortion rights in states and one of the conversations that I had was that I feel, post-Roe, that a lot of the people I’m talking to are starting to understand these issues intersectionally. And they’re starting to say ‘abortion care is actually like disability care.’ And so progress is happening.”
As for her home state, abortion is still legal in Montana, she told us. But that’s not the end of the story. “Montana has a handful of abortion laws passed in 2021, which are currently being challenged in court, but there was not a trigger ban,” she explained. “Montana’s constitution protects access to abortion via its protections for individual privacy, which was upheld by the 1999 Armstrong decision in our state supreme court. Following the overturning of Roe, the Republican party is pushing to have Armstrong overturned, and I expect abortion rights to be one of the focal points of the 2023 legislative session.”
It’s something she says she’s encountered as she deals with the citizens in her district — and she’s encouraged by what she’s seeing among them. “The folks in House District 100 are very politically engaged, both to local politics, as well as to the discussions happening at the national level,” she said. “Abortion has been a frequent discussion topic on the doors—often dovetailing with other issues around privacy, bodily autonomy, and the government not overstepping into the realm of personal freedoms. And absolutely, I have made clear my stance that abortion should be legal, affordable, accessible, and without stigma, and that stance is one shared by the majority of the district as well.”
For Zooey, these issues that fan out nationally start right at home in Missoula, Montana, with her vote. “When I sat down with state Senator Bryce Bennett (D) what he told me was that, the ‘good news is you can do it, the hard truth is, you’ve gotta be in the room. If you wanna make a difference, get in that room.’ So I’m getting in that room.”
For more information on Zooey or to donate to her campaign, visit her official site here.