Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) The Montana Legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to amendments to the bill banning gender-affirming care in the state, changes requested by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, and sent the bill back to his desk to await his signature.

The House voted 65-33 to pass Senate Bill 99 as amended on third reading, as Republican Reps. Greg Frazer, R-Deer Lodge, and Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, joined Democrats against the bill. The Senate then passed the bill on third reading Wednesday evening 31-17, with Sen. Jeffrey Welborn, R-Dillon, and Sen. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, voting with Democrats in opposition.

Gianforte’s amendments to Kalispell Republican Sen. John Fuller’s bill include clarifying that anyone deemed “female” has XX chromosomes and produces eggs and people defined as “male” have XY chromosomes and produce sperm.

Further, the amended bill says the definition of “gender” “may or may not align with the individual’s sex” and refers to gender-affirming care as a “medical treatment” instead of a “procedure.”

The bill bans gender-affirming care for minors in Montana and opens providers of the care up to punishment and civil actions for alleged “injuries” caused by gender-affirming care.

The governor told lawmakers in a letter he had met with transgender Montanans and understood their strugglesbut referred to gender affirming care as “Orwellian Newspeak” and “invasive.”

The governor’s letter and amendments to the bill ­– which has heard extensive opposition from the medical community, trans Montana children and their parents this session – drew condemnation on the House floor from multiple Democratic lawmakers Tuesday when the amendments were considered by the body.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, who is transgender, called the governor’s letter “hollow” and said disallowing gender-affirming care and access left trans teenagers with a single option of going through puberty, which she called “torture.” She told Republicans who would vote in favor of the amendments they should be ashamed of themselves.

Senate Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, stood up and said people voting in favor “will not be shamed.” Zephyr fired back.

“If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” she told lawmakers.

Vinton and nearly the entire Republican caucus stood up, and Vinton called Zephyr’s comments “inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for.”

A couple of hours later, the Montana Freedom Caucus, composed of 21 right-wing Republican lawmakers, issued a news release calling on the House to censure Zephyr and misgendering her.

“While individual legislators have condemned his behavior, the legislature itself has not yet issued a collective statement acknowledging the wrongdoing and upholding a commitment to civil discourse,” the release said.

It further claimed that the kind of “hateful rhetoric” expressed by Zephyr “is exactly why tragedies such as the Covenant Christian School shooting in Nashville occurred.”

Democrats and groups supporting the LGBTQ+ community in the state condemned the Freedom Caucus misgendering Zephyr.

“The language used by the so-called Freedom Caucus, including the intentional and repeated misgendering of Rep. Zephyr, is blatantly disrespectful and the farthest thing imaginable from the ‘commitment to civil discourse’ that these letter writers demand,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said in a statement. “I find it incredibly ironic that these legislators are making demands of others that they refuse to abide by themselves.”

House Republicans did not move to try to censure Zephyr during Wednesday’s floor session when they passed SB99 on third reading.

But Zephyr issued a statement saying she stood by her comments from Tuesday, that a physician had shared a story with her of a trans patient who had attempted suicide because of the legislature’s bills targeting the trans community, and saying she was “unconcerned” by the Freedom Caucus’ call for censure.

“It is disheartening that the Montana Freedom Caucus would stoop so low as to misgender me in their letter, further demonstrating their disregard for the dignity and humanity of transgender individuals. Their call for ‘civility and respect’ is hypocritical given their actions,” she wrote in the statement.

“Ultimately, I am unconcerned with the Montana Freedom Caucus’ call to censure me,” she added. “I stood on the floor to speak on behalf of my community, and as long as I am a member of the Montana Legislature, I will never stop fighting for trans people in our state. These actions only strengthen my commitment to promoting equality and justice for all Montanans.”