Ben Rubin

(Missoula Current) State Rep. Zooey Zephyr was listed in TIME Magazine’s 2023 TME100 Next List, an annual feature which spotlights rising leaders pushing the future forward. Zephyr is included here alongside artists, scientists, other politicians, and multiple innovators in their respective fields.

In the beginning of this year, Zephyr made history after being sworn in as the first openly transgender person to serve under Montana’s state Legislature. Her time representing Missoula in the 100th district has stood out all the more in a state that has pushed for several anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

Thirty-five years old and originally from Billings, Zephyr entered politics to be a voice for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. In April 2023, Zephyr garnered national attention when Senate Bill 99 was moving through the Legislature, a measure which restricts gender-affirming medical care for minors. Zephyr was outspoken against the bill’s supporters, pointing out the harms it would cause to transgender children.

After expressing her stance, Zephyr was denied a voice on the floor by several House Republicans, including Speaker Matt Regier. A comment she made describing supporters of the bill as having “blood on your hands” caused anger.

(Daily Montanan)
(Daily Montanan)

Despite being backed by both Democratic Representatives and local protesters for a right to speak, the House voted to prevent Zephyr from being present for the remainder of the session, instead designating her to vote remotely. As protests ensued to back Zephyr and oppose the bill, Zephyr silently held a microphone in the air, an image which has since come to stand as a moment of empowerment.

After being pushed out, Zephyr settled into a public bench outside the House Chambers to create an improvised workspace. Days later, she and her supporters took legal action against Speaker Reiger and the state for a violation against both her freedom of speech and equal protection.

After fierce opposition against her advocacy, Zephyr has remained sturdy in the Legislature. In Montana’s more liberal spaces, Zephyr is held in high regard and something of a celebrity. Posters of an artistic rendition showing her holding a microphone in the air on the House floor are present in some Missoula storefronts.

Elsewhere, Zephyr has been harassed and subject to death threats, including anonymous efforts to have her household undergo a SWAT raid. But Zephyr's inclusion in TIME Magazine highlights the work that she has achieved in bringing more attention to issues affecting trans people in Montana and nationwide.

Zephyr has announced that she will seek re-election in 2024