Police arrest Capitol protesters chanting support for trans lawmaker
Police in riot gear forcibly removed and arrested protesters chanting “Let her speak” in support of a transgender legislator who was blocked from speaking in the Montana House of Representatives Monday.
The shouts started as Representatives were debating a bill that says transgender and nonbinary students’ preferred pronouns should not have to be recognized by others in school.
Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a Missoula Democrat and the first transgender woman elected to the statehouse, pushed the button on her desk to indicate she wanted to speak.
But for the third day in a row, Republican Speaker of the House Matt Regier refused to acknowledge her.
Roughly 100 people gathered in the House gallery shouted and screamed in protest.
Regier has not allowed Zephyr to speak since she told supporters of a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors to “see the blood on their hands,” alluding to studies that show gender-affirming care reduces suicidality among youth.
A group of Republicans called for Zephyr to be censured and Regier said he will not recognize Zephyr until she apologizes. Most Republicans have repeatedly voted to uphold Regier’s ruling that Zephyr violated the House rules of decorum.
Regier banged his gavel and called for order. When the chanting continued and grew louder he called for the sergeant-at-arms to clear the gallery.
Law enforcement in riot gear with batons began by asking protestors to leave, before physically pushing them toward the door.
Many Republican lawmakers left the chambers, while many in the Democratic caucus stayed behind and watched. Zephyr stayed at her desk throughout the uproar, holding her microphone above her head aiming to amplify the protestors.
Fifteen minutes later the last of the protestors were arrested and the doors to the chamber were locked.
Seven people were charged with criminal trespassing and transported to Lewis and Clark County jail, according to Sheriff Leo Dutton.
Zephyr waited with those arrested outside the Capitol.
“My constituents and community came up and shouted 'let her speak' – I felt pride in them,” Zephyr said. “Because when they stood up, they are standing on behalf of democracy. They are standing to make sure that their electeds get heard. That the causes they care about don’t get silenced.”
Republican leaders released a statement calling Monday’s events a “riot by far-left agitators” and said they “condemn violence and will always stand for civil debate.” The leaders, including Speaker Regier, said they will continue to stand firm on the rules of decorum.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said in a statement that the demonstration was an “incredible” show of support for the trans, nonbinary, and two-spirit community.
Earlier in the day, before the protest in the House, hundreds of people rallied outside of the Capitol demanding that Zephyr be allowed to speak. Gwen Nicholson, a Missoula resident, told the crowd she believed the silencing of Zephyr goes beyond rules of decorum.
“Leadership has chosen to abandon any notion of integrity,” Nicholson said. “Instead opting for underhanded, anti-democratic cheap tricks to silence speech they don’t like in order to pass shameful laws meant to limit freedom, oppress minorities and consolidate power among a select few.”
Paul Kim, a policy associate with the ACLU of Montana, was one of the seven protesters arrested.
“At the end of the day, the people of Montana will not be silenced,” Kim said as law enforcement handcuffed him and led him to the back of a cruiser.
The Montana House of Representatives returned to business as usual by the end of the day and continued voting on bills.