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All of the Ways State Lawmakers Tried to Restrict Trans Rights This Week

6 minute read

Montana’s Republican-controlled state legislature voted Wednesday to bar transgender state representative Zooey Zephyr from the House floor for the rest of the 2023 session, marking the latest in the turbulent battle for transgender rights across the United States just this week.

Zephyr, who is the first openly transgender woman in the Montana legislature, was disciplined for telling lawmakers she hopes they see “blood on your hands” over the consideration of a bill that would ban gender-affirming care during session on April 18. On Wednesday, legislators voted along party lines to penalize her.

“In recent months, the legislature has launched a relentless assault on the LGBTQ+ community, introducing bills that aim to undermine our art forms, our literature, our history and our healthcare,” wrote Rep. Zephyr in a press release. “Though the Republican supermajority has voted to strip me of my ability to partake in debate, I remain steadfast in my commitment to community. I will continue to make the difficult moral choices necessary to stand up for the people who entrusted me with their representation.”

Adding to the tense political climate, North Dakota and Kansas are seeking to further restrict trans rights and legal battles have also ensued in Missouri after Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced he was planning to limit access to trans healthcare for minors and adults.

Here’s what to know about anti-trans efforts this week.

Montana House of Representatives punish Rep. Zephyr

On April 18, Democratic Rep. Zephyr, 34, spoke firmly against Senate Bill 99, a gender-affirming care ban bill that would target transgender minors in Montana. The Montana House and Senate had already approved the proposed legislation, but was looking over amendments at the Governor’s request.

“I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” the freshman legislator voiced during the session. Zephyr said her words were in reference to studies indicating that access to gender-affirming care can reduce suicidality.

The Montana Freedom Caucus, made up of legislators that say they are for “limited government” and “integrity in government,” immediately demanded her censure in a letter that misgendered her. The following week, Rep. Zephyr was not allowed to speak on the floor, prompting protesters in support of Zephyr to arrive at the capitol on April 24. Other lawmakers asked her to apologize for her remarks, which she refused.

Tension between Republican lawmakers and Zephyr arose as legislators announced on Tuesday that they would be holding a vote to see if her actions “violated the rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum of the House of Representatives.”

Montana legislators voted to discipline Zephyr on Wednesday. “Currently all Representatives in the Montana House are free to participate in debate while following House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made,” said Montana Speaker of the House Matt Regier.

Zephyr, who represents more than 10,000 residents that live in the town Missoula, is barred from entering the chamber and debating bills. She can still vote remotely. The session is scheduled to end on May 10.

Zephyr’s punishment comes on the heels of the expulsion of two Tennessee lawmakers from the state legislature in early April after they broke procedural rules to lead a gun control protest. (Rep. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson—who are both black—were removed but later reinstated, while the motion to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson—a white lawmaker—never went through.)

North Dakota passes anti-trans bills

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a bathroom bill on Tuesday that would bar transgender people from using restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.

Under the new law, correctional facilities, penitentiaries and dorm rooms have to make these spaces “exclusively for males or exclusively for females.” They also have to provide “reasonable accommodations” for transgender or gender-nonconforming people.

The decision comes a week after Gov. Burgum approved a measure that restricts transgender healthcare for children, and two weeks after the governor signed two bills into law that seek to ban transgender girls and women from joining female sports teams from kindergarten through college.

The state legislature overwhelmingly voted in favor of the transgender athlete ban, as the bills passed by margins that made them veto-proof, meaning the governor could not have prevented them from passing.

In early April, the Biden administration proposed a federal rule that would give schools the ability to limit transgender athletes from participating in a sport if it could lead to sports-related injuries or is unfair. The rule, which is still undergoing a period of public comment, would also prohibit schools from adopting policies that categorically ban transgender athletes from participating on teams that match their gender identity.

Kansas legislators enact transgender bathroom ban

On April 27, Republican lawmakers overturned Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a law that would bar transgender people from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity. The law also prohibits residents from changing their gender on their driver’s licenses.

The law states that a person’s gender is based on the reproductive anatomy they had at birth. Supporters of the legislation say the language in the law is particularly vague, meaning it can also apply to any gendered spaces, according to NBC News. The implementation of the law is under question as it does not impose any fines or penalties for those who do not abide by it.

The law is set to go into effect on July 1.

Missouri attorney general barred from gender-affirming-care ban

Earlier this month, Missouri Attorney General Bailey sought to pass a trans-affirming healthcare ban for adults and minors, citing a consumer protection law that enshrines him with the “protect[ion] of consumers, including minors, from harm.”

“Because these gender transition interventions lack a solid evidentiary foundation and pose very serious side effects, they are unlawful under Missouri law absent sufficiently protective guardrails,” Bailey wrote.

The rule, which was set to go into effect on Thursday, would have made the state the first to ban gender-affirming care for people of all ages, but the move was blocked by a judge on Wednesday.

On April 24, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Missouri, and Bryan Cave Leighton LLP initially filed a petition to block the rule, seeking a temporary restraining order.

“This so-called emergency rule is an outrageous attack on basic healthcare for transgender people of all ages, and by imposing extreme restrictions on care for broad categories of Missouri’s transgender people, including adults, it represents a stunning expansion of efforts to target gender-affirming care,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Nora Huppert in a statement. “This unprecedented attempt to use Missouri’s consumer protection law to go after necessary and often life-saving healthcare must be stopped.”

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaud will rule on the temporary restraining order on May 1.

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