Zooey Zephyr Fights Montana Gender Affirming Healthcare Ban: Interview – Hollywood Life

Montana State Rep Zooey Zephyr Charges That The State’s New Gender Affirming Health Care Ban Will ‘Torture’ Teens

Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman herself, vows to continue to fight the 'hateful and harmful' laws passed by Montana's Legislature which target trans teens.

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Image Credit: Zooey Zephyr campaign

  • Zooey Zephyr went viral for her Montana House comments on gender affirming health care for teens.
  • The Legislature took the extraordinary measure of silencing her.
  • She has vowed to continue the fight for the rights of trans teens in Montana.

Zooey Zephyr has just left the White House after meeting with members of the Biden administration to strategize a national response to the vastly increased attacks on LGBTQ people. She appreciates the support of the federal government in joining the bruising fight that she as a Montana state representative waged this year against a ban on gender affirming health care for teens as well as against a law making it easier for trans teens to be bullied.

Zephyr was literally silenced and banned from the Legislature floor after vigorously representing opponents of these two anti trans bills, which were later signed into law by Montana’s Governor Greg Gianforte.  Nevertheless, she tells HollywoodLife in an EXCLUSIVE interview, that she feels “gratitude” from the state’s trans community.

“There’s a gratitude for someone that is in there holding the powerful accountable for bills that get our community killed,” she explains. “There’s someone in the room when the bills come through and when they are as cruel as they have been this year, they still can’t shut us out entirely, even though they’ve tried.” Being in “the room,” (The Montana State Legislature) was Zephyr’s goal when she ran for office in 2022, representing House District 100, which covers a large swath of the City of Missoula. There are currently 68 Republicans and 32 Democrats in the Montana House, and 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the Senate.

When Zephyr, 34, asserts that a ban on allowing trans teens to utilize puberty blockers and hormone treatments, with their parents’ permission and under a doctor’s care, is “torture,” she doesn’t mince words. She emphatically told the Republican-dominated state Legislature that if they passed the trans youth health care ban (SB 99), they would literally “have blood on their hands.” “That’s not hyperbole,” she emphasizes to Hollywoodlife. “We had a trans kid in our state who attempted suicide while watching one of the hearings on the bill banning gender affirming health care.”

And facts are facts: Trans teens have a high rate of suicide and attempted suicide – 45% have attempted suicide in the past year and 14% have committed suicide, according to a 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Heath conducted by the Trevor Project. This is about double that for cisgender teens.

Yet Montana’s Republican lawmakers who passed the trans health care ban claim that they were “protecting” teens. Not true says Zephyr, who cites the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians who said that the ban was a “bad policy.” She says that pediatricians and therapists who came in to explain to the state legislators the careful care that trans patients are given and why the care is necessary, were not listened to by Republican lawmakers.

“One of the things I said was that if you force a trans girl to go through a male puberty, that is tantamount to torture,” she relates. Nevertheless, the bill was signed into law by Governor Gianforte this past April. “It should be very concerning to anyone who cares deeply about democracy in this country,” she warns.

Zephyr rose to national prominence at that time, when she took the mic and expressed extreme opposition to SB 99. “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” she said in an unapologetic April 18 speech, referencing the high suicide risk among transgender youth.

For that speech, which spread like wildfire across media channels and the internet, the Montana Legislature moved to soundly discipline her. On April 27, news broke that 68 Republicans — 2/3 of the chamber — had voted to formally censure her. Thirty two Democratic votes against punishing her went unheeded. Zooey kept her seat, but for her blistering remarks, she was relegated to only participating in critical votes remotely. She is no longer allowed to be present on the Montana House floor, anteroom, or even the galleries. She now works from a hallway bench outside the House.

After her formal censure, footage emerged of Zephyr triumphantly but silently raising a microphone as her supporters chanted “let her speak” from the gallery, even as she was unable to participate in debate over the health care ban. The noise ultimately brought the session to halt, and again, the moment went viral.

Now, The ACLU of Montana is challenging the constitutionality of the law, which takes away the right of parents of trans youth to provide the health care that they believe they need for their child. The law doesn’t go into effect until Oct 1, so Zephyr hopes that the Montana courts will block it. Zephyr calls the law “as cruel as it is unconstitutional” – and she’s hopeful that trans teens will be able to continue to get the care they need in the state.

Zephyr plans to fight on and run for office again in 2024 despite the “harmful rhetoric” from ring wing extremists that she has endured for speaking out on behalf of her community. “There have been increasing threats to me personally. But I am doing what I can to mitigate them and I’m not letting it deter me,” she says.

None of this has dampened Zooey’s faith in the people of Montana — and she doesn’t believe these new laws reflect the traditional tolerance that has been a hallmark of the state. “Montana has had a deep history of us standing up for justice and representation,” she said. “I think of Montana being the birthplace of the Union fights against the copper kings. I think of Montana electing Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to serve in Congress before women had the right to vote.”

In other words, she asserts, “the [Montana] Legislature is very out of step” with the overall population of Montana, who she says are by and large understanding. “When I travel across the state, I see a state that broadly recognizes that trans people are living our lives, and we’re living lives that bring us joy — and that would not be possible if we had not transitioned. And they recognize that we are not just in their communities, but an integral part of what makes Montana wonderful.”

Unfortunately, she feels that a “capitulation to the growing extremism within the national Republican Party” has resulted in “harmful” actions, including House Bill 361. Zephyr explains that this bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Brandon Ler, “allows other students to intentionally misgender and dead name [refer to them as their name given at birth] trans students in schools,” thus bullying trans students in public schools with no repercussions. This law was also passed by the Republican dominated Legislature and signed by the Governor in April.

As for Zooey’s now-viral speech, she admits that she has “not seen the scope” of the movement that sprung up around her in the aftermath of being silenced by the Legislature. After she was censured, T-shirts and other merchandise reading “Let her speak” flooded stores and online retailers. “I am so focused on…’what is the next room’ to enter to make change,” she said. “How do I do good there?”

Zooey Zephyr
Photo courtesy of Zooey Zephyr campaign.

In addition to fighting the trans youth health care ban bill, the ACLU of Montana has Zooey’s back. Early in May, they filed a lawsuit alleging that her censure is a violation of her First Amendment rights. “By depriving Representative Zephyr of her right to freely engage with the legislative process, Defendants have also deprived her 11,000 constituents of the right to full representation in their government,” the lawsuit documents state, per NBC News. “Defendants’ lawless silencing and Censure of Representative Zooey Zephyr extinguishes a vital part of the job her constituents elected her to do.” Defendants in the lawsuit include Bradley Murfitt, sergeant-at-arms of the Montana House, Rep. Matt Regier, speaker of the Montana House, and the state of Montana.

Meanwhile, as the battle marches on, Zooey confesses that it was overwhelming to return home to Missoula after the massive media blitz that put her at the center of the battle for trans rights for teens. “It seemed like every storefront on the main drag had a photo of me, or a sign reading ‘let her speak.'” Zephyr draws a deep breath before continuing. “It was like, ‘okay, here we are.’ I just feel blessed to represent my home. And I feel blessed that I have a community in Montana that doesn’t just have my back, but will stand up alongside me and say, ‘this is the person we want representing us. This is someone we love and care about. She is speaking truth to power. She’s holding powerful accountable.’ And I just feel awash with gratitude.”