Riot police descended on Montana‘s Capitol on Monday after left–wing protesters disrupted proceedings in the state House of Representatives in support of Democratic lawmaker Zooey Zephyr, who was censured by the body last week.
The protest, which reportedly saw multiple arrests, was in response to the House‘s vote to censure Zephyr, a bisexual and the first transgender lawmaker in Montana legislature history.
The censure was a result of Zephyr telling Republicans during a debate on amendments to Senate Bill 99, which would prohibit sex change treatment for minors, that they have “blood on [their] hands.”
Zephyr‘s comments prompted the House to vote in favor of the lawmaker‘s censure on Thursday, citing “hate–filled testimony.”
“I want to be clear: no amount of silencing tactics will deter me from standing up for the rights of the transgender community,” Zephyr said following the censure. “I will not apologize for speaking with clarity and precision about the harm these bills cause. Montana Republicans say they want an apology, but what they really want is silence as they take away the rights of trans and queer Montanans.”
The protests and censure have sparked outrage among left–wing groups, who accuse Republicans of attempting to silence free speech and push an agenda to deny transgender rights.
However, many conservatives have defended the House‘s decision to censure Zephyr, citing the lawmaker‘s incendiary comments as proof that their actions were justified.
“It is well within the rights of the House to censure a member for conduct unbecoming of an elected official,” said Montana Republican Party Chairman Don Kaltschmidt. “The fact that it was a Democrat does not change this. It is far from silencing free speech as some have accused.”
The bill passed both the state House and Senate, and was sent to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte‘s desk on Friday. He is expected to sign the bill into law.
The protests and censure in Montana are just the latest examples of the bitter divide between those who support transgender rights and those who oppose them. With the bill‘s passage, it remains to be seen how this divide will ultimately be reconciled.