Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) While the 2023 legislative sessions winds down and this year's crop of bills become law, the fallout from the GOP majority's banning of a Missoula transgender representative from the House floor is likely to sting for a while longer.

On Friday, a number of Missoula residents turned out at a downtown rally to show unity for Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who was banned from the House floor last month for comments some found to be outside their view of decorum.

All but two members of the Missoula City Council last week signed a letter of support for Zephyr. On Monday night, one council member shared a more personal view of the issue.

“For most of my older child's life she's lived in a netherworld somewhere between boy and girl,” said council member Jennifer Savage. “This was a decade ago and the conversation around pronouns was just emerging.”

Savage said the family supported their child and found other kids like her. Along the way they “lost sleep, worried, and found a school that allowed her to be and grow into exactly who she is.”

They also found healthcare providers in Montana and were pleased to learn they didn't have to travel to the coast to find gender-affirming care. Rather, they found it in Missoula.

“I remember sitting in one doctor’s appointment when Eliza was about 10 years old. She spoke about her assigned gender at birth and what it was like to live in a half-half body,” Savage said. “Watching her so knowingly and at such a young age articulate clearly her gender identity wasn’t something I’ll ever forget. She was strong, she was proud and she was met with love, respect and compassion from her doctor.”

But the Republican supermajority in the Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Gianforte quickly signed Senate Bill 99 into law last week. It bans forms of gender-affirming healthcare for children under the age of 18.

Healthcare providers who violate the new law could face penalties, including suspension of their authority to practice and potential legal liability. For families like Savage's, it marked a sad day in Montana's progression from a “live and let live” state to one where tolerance for difference is less accepted.

“With the passage of the bill to ban gender-affirming care, kids lost that in Montana last week,” Savage said. “I will never stop fighting for my kid and I will never stop fighting for all the other transgender, non-binary and two-spirit kids in Montana.”

Mike Nugent speaks with the public. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Council member Mike Nugent speaks with the public. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Other members of City Council expressed similar frustration with the legislation and the pain it's likely to cause families down the road.

“A lot of people struggle to put into words what this means and how it impacts,” said council member Mike Nugent. “This conversation belongs almost anywhere but in legislative board rooms around the county. It belongs with families and with individuals.”

Nugent said he was proud to sign the letter supporting Zephyr and see many members of the community turn out last Friday to support her and other members of the trans community.

“I was proud to be a Missoulian on Friday night,” Nugent said. “Those moments are important, especially for the role Missoula plays in this state, being a leader on issues the state as a whole isn't ready to handle.”

Other council members expressed frustration with the Legislature.

“This Legislature continues to legislate hate. We're making news for all the wrong reasons in Montana,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “We're a live and let live state. But this supermajority in the Legislature is fundamentally changing that, and it's sad to see.”