3 lawmakers under attack from colleagues for standing up for trans constituents

A shout out and a “Hell yeah!” to Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt and Nebraska state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh who are standing up against anti-trans hate in their states.

Since February, Sen. Cavanaugh has been filibustering every single bill to ensure that the Republicans’ bill banning gender-affirming care for minors cannot come up for a vote. She threatened to “burn the session to the ground over this bill,” and she wasn’t kidding.

“Seeing legislation, any legislation, that targets a vulnerable population is upsetting to me, and seeing people in positions of power push forward things that are really perpetuated out of a place of fear and hate is really upsetting,” Cavanaugh told The New Republic.

“I’m a mom of three kids, I am a very ferocious mama bear for all children,” she continued. “A lot of my legislation in my first four years was focused on maternal health and child welfare, and I’ve done a significant amount of work specifically around child welfare in Nebraska. So I’m very passionate about protecting our kids, all of our kids. All of our kids.”

Right on. More elected leaders like Sen. Cavanaugh, please.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hunt is under an ethics investigation for not reporting a conflict of interest when it comes to opposing the anti-trans bill. See, Hunt’s child is trans.

This is, of course, bananas. But it’s also something that I heard batted around back when states were scrambling to pass anti-marriage equality laws opposed by queer lawmakers.

It is wild to say that if a lawmaker could in any way benefit from the passage of a bill that they have an inherent conflict of interest.

To follow this logic, if the legislature is taking up, say, a bill about air pollution, then every lawmaker who breathes air would need to recuse themselves.

On April 26, Hunt tweeted, “Today I was informed that … I am under official investigation for a conflict of interest for standing for trans rights. My colleagues stood up offering support, but I don’t need their words. I need their vote. My child needs their vote.

Children and families from across our state need their votes.

“Words are meaningless unless we put action behind them. I will continue to advocate for our kids — yours, theirs and mine — no matter what harassment or intimidation comes my way.”

This investigation is so egregious that even some Republicans who support the anti-trans legislation are speaking out against it. Sen. Tom Brandt told Nebraska Public Media, “I know people are upset about the filibuster. I get that all the time from my constituents. I tell them it is the senator’s right under the rules. And who knows when I as a rural senator will need those rules. I will stand with senators Hunt and Cavanaugh for their right to speak out.”

Republicans have shown a stunning disregard for representative democracy lately, choosing to shut out lawmakers who dare disagree with them.

Which brings us to Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who is trans and was censured by the Republican majority in the legislature after saying they would have “blood on their hands” if they passed an anti-trans bill banning gender-affirming care (which they did pass and Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed).

She was officially expelled after a protest against her censure disrupted House proceedings. She’s banned from attending session and has been doing her work in a hallway outside of the chambers.

Republicans, including those in Montana, claim that they’re all about “decorum,” but remember when Gov. Gianforte was convicted of physically assaulting a reporter? They didn’t have much to say at that time. Then again, Gianforte isn’t trans, and he isn’t a Democrat.

“By depriving Rep. Zephyr of her right to freely engage with the legislative process, defendants have also deprived her 11,000 constituents of the right to full representation in their government,” the lawsuit challenging Zephyr’s ban states, according to NBC News. “Defendants’ lawless silencing and censure of Representative Zooey Zephyr extinguishes a vital part of the job her constituents elected her to do.”

Booting Rep. Zephyr is a very clear example of what Republicans are trying to do nationwide: silence trans voices and erase trans people.

“House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself,” Zephyr said according to NBC. “By doing so, they’ve denied me my own rights under the Constitution and, more importantly, the rights of my constituents to just representation in their own government.”

I’m very grateful for legislators like Cavanaugh, Hunt and Zephyr and cannot overstate how important elections are.

Vote like trans lives depend on it. Because they do.

D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.