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OPINION: Zooey Zephyr is a light in a time of political darkness

The freshman representative combats hostility against the trans community

Screenshot of Zooey Zephyr speaking against her expulsion at the Montana Legislative Branch on April 26, 2023. Zephyr was censured from the House floor on April 20, 2023 after criticizing her collages for passing a bill that bans gender-affirming care. // Screenshot by Connor O'Boyle

Representative Zooey Zephyr took a stand against transphobia — a remarkable act of bravery. Zephyr, the first transgender person to serve in the Montana state legislature, spoke out against S.B. 99, which would prohibit gender-affirming care for minors. 

She told those who voted for it she hoped “the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.” Later, when she pointed her microphone toward protestors, Republican legislators banned her from the floor.

Western Washington University’s students and staff are bound to hear the news since Montana and Washington are both on the Canadian border. 

Gee Kelly, a co-coordinator of education and advocacy at Western, said living in Montana was a big goal of theirs. Considering their identities, Kelly said, it wasn’t the safest place for them, but their family grew up there. 

“To see Zooey get elected was one of those things where I was like, ‘Oh my god, this could be something that could actually happen,’ it really proved that representation mattered,” Kelly said. 

They said the recent anti-trans policies mixed with the acceptance of today’s world puts them in an interesting position. 

“I feel like it has a lot of these conflicting feelings for people who share the identity of trans or nonbinary, which is, you feel more welcome than ever, and yet so isolated,” they said. 

Flynn Williams is another co-coordinator of education and advocacy who finds Zephyr’s work inspiring. 

“I think a lot of people look up to her for that because it’s really cool to see that because we don’t often have examples of people in positions of power that share the same identities that we do, and so it’s amazing to see people in those positions of power,” Williams said. 

But Zephyr’s ban from the floor is also stressful for trans people. 

JoeHahn, the LGBTQ+ director for LGBTQ+ Western, acts as a resource for LGBTQ+ students. 

“Some of this stuff is naturally coming up in classes and things like that, and then if they’re the only trans person in the class, and they’re out as being trans, then attention can go to them and it feels tokenizing,” JoeHahn said. 

With all the anti-trans bills introduced this year, some trans students have stopped paying attention to the news because it’s emotionally draining. 

“It can be psychologically damaging for them to have these things and then try to go about their day,” JoeHahn said. 

JoeHahn grew up in California and was a sophomore in high school when people around them started talking about Prop. 8. As a queer person who wasn’t out yet, they advocated for their mom, who is a lesbian. 

“Now we’re seeing that parallel of students having to decide, ‘Do I out myself to be able to engage in this conversation, or do I have to hear my friends, my peers, the people I work with every day, say things that might not regard my lived experience because they don’t know me?’” they said.

Mercury Hopeless, a second-year at Western, said their friend group talked about Zephyr. 

“I do think she was incredibly brave, but not just out of the goodness of her heart, but it is a survival thing. She cares about her community, and she’s being very realistic about it,” Hopeless said. 

Some may argue anti-trans legislation is a thing of the past, but that is far from the truth. 

Representative Laurie Bishop of Montana, the vice-chair of the House judiciary committee, works with Zephyr. Bishop saw an increasing number of bills like S.B. 99, the one Zephyr spoke out against, pass through the House these last two sessions. 

“Even before there was an opportunity for legislators to get to know each other, we were faced with these conversations right away,” Bishop said. “Representative Zephyr had to face those both in committee and on the floor.” 

Zephyr is one of two trans representatives in the House this year. Her colleague SJ Howell is nonbinary. This legislative season brings a supermajority of Republicans to the Montana state legislature. 

Some of these Republicans bring forth bills that target trans and nonbinary people such as Zephyr and Howell. But Bishop said some of the legislation Republicans pushed through came from another place. 

“Some of the most challenging things that we saw actually didn't come from the legislators, they came from the public,” Bishop said. “There are intolerant things that are said there on the floor.” 

Pressure from the public then motivates Republican senators and representatives to push for this legislation. 

Bishop agrees this legislation is harmful to the trans community, and that representation in the Montana state legislature is important. 

“I look at Zooey … as a legislator and I see someone who has really great policy chops, and I look at her as someone who brings great judgment to any policy conversation we're having,” she said.

Bishop is waiting for Zephyr’s censure to end. 

“It's important for us to have the voices of the people that legislation is going to impact represented in the body that’s making the decision,” she said. 

Williams, one of the co-coordinators of education and advocacy at Western, expressed a positive sentiment that hinted at the bravery of people like Zephyr: 

“There is all of this negative stuff that is happening, but there are people who are fighting against it and then there are also other states that are actively fighting to protect trans youth.”

Cordelia Longo

Cordelia Longo (they/them) is a senior at Western majoring in political science. In their free time, you can find them listening to Taylor Swift and asking to pet strangers' dogs. 

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