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Montana health dept. now “intends to comply” with court order

“Throughout this whole process, DPHHS has shown clear disdain for the courts, the will of the people, and especially transgender Montanans”



Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services building (Screenshot/Montana Public Radio)

By Mara Silvers | BILLINGS – The Montana state health department said Monday it now intends to comply with last week’s district court order in which a Billings judge instructed the agency to reinstate a process for allowing transgender Montanans to update the sex on their birth certificates. 

The announcement represents a shift from the department’s response to an oral bench ruling from Judge Michael Moses last Thursday. Last week, Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Charlie Brereton said the department was awaiting a written copy of the ruling and that the agency would continue to enforce a different rule adopted in September that bars changes to the sex on birth certificates based on a person’s gender identity.

The dispute stems from ongoing litigation over Senate Bill 280, signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, which would make it harder for transgender people to update the sex on their birth certificate. That bill sought to replace a more lenient 2017 administrative rule adopted under former Gov. Steve Bullock. 

During last week’s hearing, Moses told attorneys representing the health department and the ACLU of Montana that he was “clear as a bell” in an April order pausing the law while the case continued and reimplementing the “status quo” from 2017. 

Instead of reverting to the 2017 standard following that April order, the health department enacted an emergency rule allowing a person’s sex designation to be changed only to correct a data entry error or upon submittal of DNA or genetic testing evidence to show that the listed sex is incorrect. The department later adopted a formal version of that rule in September, despite substantial opposition expressed in public testimony. The agency’s leadership has said it sees sex as a “biological concept” that cannot be changed and that its rules help maintain the accuracy of vital records and statistics.

Moses said in last week’s hearing that the department’s decision to enact new rules instead of reverting to the 2017 status quo violated his order and that, in doing so, health officials were “thumbing their nose at orders of courts.” 

The judge reiterated his displeasure with the department’s actions on Monday in his written order, writing that if state officials “require further clarification, they are welcome to request it from the Court rather than engage in activities that constitute unlawful violations of the Order.”

Moses also said that any motions from the ACLU of Montana to hold the department in contempt of court “based on continued violations” of his orders “will be promptly considered.”

The health department has said it has never considered itself in violation of the April injunction, instead arguing that the subsequent, more restrictive rules it created were an attempt to fill a regulatory void created by the judge’s “vague” order. On Monday, the department indicated it still took issue with the ruling.

“The Department has received the court’s order clarifying the preliminary injunction and despite disagreeing with it, intends to comply with its terms,” the statement said. “The Department stands by its actions and analysis concerning the April 2022 preliminary injunction decision, as set forth in its rulemaking that addressed critical regulatory gaps left by the court.”

The department also said it is “carefully considering next steps in the litigation.”

Health Department spokesman Jon Ebelt did not immediately respond to an additional question asking what day the department intended to re-implement the 2017 standards. 

Alex Rate, an attorney for the ACLU, said the department should have no issue in reimplementing the old standard while the lawsuit unfolds, but added he’s skeptical that the agency will act in accordance with the intent of the judge’s order. 

“I’m in ‘prove it’ mode,” Rate said in a Thursday phone call. “We need to start processing these applications before I’ll take them at their word.”

Forward Montana, an advocacy group that represents young people and supports transgender rights, also expressed continued frustration at the department’s recent actions. 

“Throughout this whole process, including the DPHHS’s most recent response, the Department has shown clear disdain for the courts, the will of the people, and especially transgender Montanans who are simply trying to live safe, happy lives in our state,” said Izzy Milch, senior advocacy manager with Forward Montana. “Compliance with this court order is a step in the right direction, and we hope that trans Montanans will now have access to accurate ID as this litigation continues to unfold.”


Mara Silvers writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.


The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.


Unbiased, unflinching journalism is critical to our democracy. When you donate to Montana Free Press, you are helping build a newsroom that serves the people of Montana, not advertisers or special interests. (Link)



State judge blocks Montana anti-trans youth healthcare law

The attorney general’s office has not said whether it intends to appeal the preliminary injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court



Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. (Photo Credit: Office of Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen)

By Mara Silvers | MISSOULA, MT. – A state district court judge in Missoula has blocked Montana’s ban on medical care for minors with gender dysphoria from taking effect while a lawsuit over its constitutionality continues, finding that the new law appears to have “no rational relationship to protecting children.”

The challenge against Senate Bill 99, a Republican-backed law passed earlier this year and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte in April, is taking place in the state court system. Other similar laws passed in other states, including Texas and Tennessee, are winding their way through federal courts. The Montana law was slated to take effect Oct. 1.

Advocates for transgender rights, the plaintiffs and their attorneys in the Montana case heralded Judge Jason Marks’ Wednesday decision as critical protection for young people and vowed to continue fighting in court against what they deem discriminatory legislation.

“Today’s ruling permits our clients to breathe a sigh of relief,” Akilah Deernose, the executive director of the ACLU of Montana, said in a Wednesday press release. The civil rights organization is one of the groups representing transgender minors, their parents and medical providers. “But this fight is far from over. We look forward to vindicating our clients’ constitutional rights and ensuring that this hateful law never takes effect.”

Supporters of plaintiffs in Van Garderen v. State, the case over Montana’s ban on gender affirming care for transgender minors, stand outside a state district court hearing room in Missoula on Sept. 18, 2023. Credit: Courtesy Paul Kim

A spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen did not respond to a request for comment before publication. Knudsen’s office is representing defendants in the case, including himself, the governor, the state health department and agency director, and medical licensing boards. 

The 48-page ruling comes a week after both sides appeared in Missoula court to argue over the preliminary injunction, which blocks the state from enforcing the law while litigation proceeds. 

There, the plaintiffs argued that SB 99 unconstitutionally violates Montana’s rights to equal protection, the right to parent, the right to privacy, the right to seek and obtain medical care, the right to dignity for patients and freedom of speech for medical providers. Defendants said the law should be enforced as written, asserting the state’s “compelling interest” in protecting the well-being of children. 

In his ruling, Marks found that the 2023 Legislature’s record “does not support a finding that SB 99 protects minors,” writing that submitted evidence “suggests that SB 99 would have the opposite effect.” Marks also wrote that the plaintiffs were likely to eventually succeed on the merits of the case, one of the standards for temporarily blocking a law, and that SB 99 could be “unlikely to survive any level of constitutional review.” 

He described the medical treatments prohibited by SB 99 as among the options for young people experiencing gender dysphoria, a diagnosed condition caused by a distressing incongruence between a person’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth. 

Nodding to the plaintiffs’ arguments, Marks also noted that many of the medications — including puberty blockers for adolescents and cross-sex hormones for teens — are often prescribed to minors to treat other conditions but that SB 99 would bar the provision of the same services for the purpose of treating gender dysphoria.

Defendants advocated for a non-medical “watchful-waiting” approach and suggested that many youths may eventually stop experiencing gender dysphoria without medical intervention, Marks summarized. He also noted that defendants sought to undermine professional medical organizations’ support for gender-affirming care, casting the science as unsettled.

Marks cut through the defendants’ framing of gender dysphoria as a psychological condition not suited for the medical treatments barred by SB 99. That logic, Marks explained, would put transgender minors on uneven footing with their peers.

“Transgender minors seeking the treatments proscribed by SB 99 do so for medical reasons — to treat gender dysphoria — and based on the advice offered by their healthcare providers. Their cisgender counterparts also seek those treatments for medical reasons — such as central precocious puberty, hypogonadism, PCOS — and on the advice of their healthcare providers. Physical conditions, like cysts on ovaries or ataxia, and psychological conditions, like depression or Alzheimer’s disease, are all health issues that may require the aid of a medical professional,” Marks wrote. 

The judge also said he was “unpersuaded” by the state’s argument that SB 99 does not discriminate based on sex, a protected class, “simply because it proscribes both minor females and minor males from receiving gender-affirming care,” citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in landmark 2020 case Bostock v. Clayton County. 

At another point in the ruling, Marks refuted arguments from the state framing gender-affirming medical care prohibited by SB 99 as “experimental” and unsafe, in part because they have not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for the purpose of treating gender dysphoria. Marks pointed out that the treatments are approved to be used “off-label,” a common permission once the FDA approves a drug. The judge also referenced the Montana Legislature’s passage this year of Senate Bill 422, a law allowing any person to access treatment through an “investigational drug” as long as they’ve considered what has been approved by the FDA and received a recommendation from their health care provider. 

“The Court finds it fascinating that SB 99 and SB 422 were passed in the same legislative session,” Marks wrote. “… Read together, SB 99 and SB 422 authorize parents to give consent for their minor children to engage in experimental medical treatments, regardless of efficacy or risk, that cannot be blocked by the State unless the minor is transgender and seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria in line with the recognized standard of care.”

Marks continued that, based on that reading, “the court is forced to conclude that the purported purpose given for SB 99 is disingenuous,” and that the legislative record “is replete with animus toward transgender persons, mischaracterizations of the treatments proscribed by SB 99, and statements from individual legislators suggesting personal, moral, or religious disapproval of gender transition.” He cited examples from Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, and the sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Fuller, R-Whitefish.

If the law were to take effect, Marks wrote, minors in Montana diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be at risk of facing “severe psychological distress” if they were blocked from receiving prescribed medical care, including youth plaintiffs Scarlet van Garderen, 17, and Phoebe Cross, 16. The possibility of risks to the plaintiff’s health, Marks wrote, constitutes “a high likelihood of irreparable harm.”

The judge wrote that the findings in Wednesday’s ruling “are not binding at trial,” and that a later trial “will be the appropriate time to fully evaluate the merits of the competing evidence presented in this case.” 

The attorney general’s office has not said whether it intends to appeal the preliminary injunction ruling to the Montana Supreme Court.


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Mara Silvers

[email protected]

Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. More by Mara Silvers


The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.


Unbiased, unflinching journalism is critical to our democracy. When you donate to Montana Free Press, you are helping build a newsroom that serves the people of Montana, not advertisers or special interests. (Link)

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Montana bans drag queen stories in libraries, restricts public shows

Law is likely to face legal challenge, also prohibits ‘sexually oriented’ performance at any public space where minors are present



Drag members from The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana confronting anti-LGBTQ+ protestors during Pride in Bozeman earlier this month. (Photo Credit: The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana/Facebook)

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit | HELENA – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation this week that bans drag story hours in public schools and libraries and restricts “sexually oriented performances” on public property, likely setting the stage for another legal challenge to GOP-backed legislation restricting LGBTQ+ expression. 

House Bill 359, sponsored by Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, became law with Gianforte’s signature Monday. 

“The governor believes it’s wildly inappropriate for little kids, especially preschoolers and kids in elementary school, to be exposed to highly sexualized content,” Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told Montana Free Press in an email Tuesday. 

That line echoes arguments lawmakers made for the bill and others like it during the recently concluded session — Mitchell suggested that drag story hours and other family-oriented drag performances were part of a “sick agenda” and “damaging to a child’s psychology and general welfare.” Mitchell could not be reached for comment in time for publication Tuesday.

Drag performers, advocates and other opponents said the bill’s backers willfully misunderstand the nature of drag performances at a time when the LGBTQ+ community is already under attack by state legislators. In addition to HB 359, Republicans this session passed Senate Bill 99, which bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth, Senate Bill 458, which inserts binary definitions of sex into state law, and several other similar bills. 

“We have white [cisgender] individuals that have zero experience within the drag community providing a legally binding definition of what drag art is, and I think I speak for the community when I say that is hurtful, degrading, and it’s a misunderstanding,” said Bozeman drag performer Anita Shadow. 

“One of the big things is that there seems to be a complete misunderstanding that drag is inherently sexual — and that is not the case,” Shadow said. 

Upper Seven Law, a non-profit law firm involved in several lawsuits related to new legislation, has pledged to challenge HB 359. 

“This is a really straightforward First Amendment activity,” Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, the firm’s executive director, told MTFP. “There’s nothing obscene about dressing in drag. The First Amendment allows reasonable restrictions on speech, but this isn’t it.” 

Similar drag bills in other states have also faced lawsuits, but supporters of HB 359 maintain that the bill’s focus on publicly funded facilities sets it apart from legislation elsewhere. 

The version of the law that reached Gianforte’s desk is less explicit about the types of expression it’s targeting than it was at its introduction. Initially, HB 359 specifically banned drag performances in public schools, libraries and public properties “in any location” when a minor is present, but underwent a series of amendments during the final days of the session that broadened its focus. 

These amendments included new language from Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, that removed any reference to drag in favor of the term “adult-oriented.” 

“I can tell you right now, if that bill goes [in its current form] even the most conservative judge will strike it down for unconstitutionality,” Friedel told his colleagues in April. “The reason I brought this amendment today is to make sure that we get this across the aisle, we get this in front of the governor, he signs it, it goes to court and it can be defended by the [Montana attorney general’s] office.” 

Friedel’s amendment passed the Senate on bipartisan lines. But the vote to support the amendment in the House came just after protests in support of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman and Missoula Democrat, erupted in the House gallery. Despite relatively broad GOP support for the amendment in the Senate, almost every House Republican voted against the new language. 

A subcommittee of House and Senate lawmakers then met to reconcile the different versions. The language they landed on has a few operative provisions, namely an explicit ban on drag story hours at “a school or library that receives any form of funding from the state” during regular operating hours or at school-sanctioned events. The bill ultimately passed on May 2, the last day of the 68th Legislature, on mostly party lines. 

To support those restrictions, the law introduces definitions of drag queen and drag king into state statute. Critics have attacked those definitions as vague and subjective. 

A drag queen, under the law, is “a male or female performer who adopts a flamboyant or parodic feminine persona with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”

The law also says that “a sexually oriented business may not allow a person under 18 years of age to enter the premises of the business during a sexually oriented performance” and further prohibits a “sexually oriented activity” in any public space where someone under the age of 18 is present. 

Shadow, the drag performer, described story hours as akin to “taking your kid to meet Cinderella at Disneyland,” not an expression of prurience. Performers in Shadow’s organization follow strict requirements for dress and language when performing for kids, she said.

“If you have a caterer that is working with an older crowd that has lots of money, they may bring caviar,” Shadow said. “If you’re working with a youth group for a birthday party, they’re probably bringing pizza. They’re catering to the crowd they’re going to.” 

Gianforte’s signing of the bill comes as Pride Month approaches in June. Kevin Hamm, the president of Montana Pride — and a recently announced Democratic candidate for Montana’s eastern U.S. House district — said he doesn’t expect the law will hamper the festivities. 

“We have tons of events planned, many featuring drag,” Hamm said. “Knowing how resilient and energized this community is in the face of adversity, I suspect that this nonsense will inspire even more people to show up as their authentic selves in drag or genderqueer outfits. Our community refuses to be pushed back into the closet by a small minority of ignorant but very vocal bigots, and this bill does nothing to change that.”

Shadow, who helped produce Bozeman’s own Pride event last week, said much of the same, but also noted the fear that many in the drag and LGBTQ+ community feel in the context of HB 359 and similar legislation. For example, white supremacist protesters interrupted a Pride event in Bozeman this weekend holding signs that said, among other phrases, “Boycott your local safe space.” Events she’s involved with often require security, law enforcement and other heightened measures to prevent violence and harassment, Shadow said. 

“Nationally speaking but also in Montana, the queer community is under attack,” she said.

Disclosure: Kevin Hamm is COO of Treasure State Internet, an in-kind supporter of Montana Free Press.


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Arren Kimbel-Sannit

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Raised in Arizona, Arren is no stranger to the issues impacting Western states, having a keen interest in the politics of land, transportation and housing. Prior to moving to Montana, Arren was a statehouse reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times and covered agricultural and trade policy for Politico in Washington, D.C. In Montana, he has carved out a niche in shoe-leather heavy muckraking based on public documents and deep sourcing that keeps elected officials uncomfortable and the public better informed. 

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The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

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Bozeman Pride marred by white supremacy, anti-LGBTQ+ groups

LGBTQ+ attendees in the Pride crowd commenced shouting “we’re here, we’re queer” over the white supremacists racist/homophobic chants



A group of about 20 white supremacists showed up and started chanting hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ statements at the crowd. (Screenshot/YouTube KBZK TV)

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Pride returned to Bozeman after a 10 year absence although the featured Pride Stroll event was also attended by protesters wearing masks and sunglasses to protect their identities while chanting and carrying signs promoting white supremacy and condemning the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride Co-Producer Stefan Aldava told ABC Fox Bozeman KFBB-TV, that the events had been organized through The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana, a nonprofit that organizes LGBTQ+ events, and that many local businesses and organizations were eager to step up to host or sponsor events.

About an hour into the event, as community organizations gathered at Soroptimist Park, a group of about 20 white supremacists showed up and started chanting hateful, anti-LGBTQ+ statements at the crowd. Many of them had their faces covered and held signs with racist and homophobic slogans, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Chronicle reporter Nora Shelly noted in a tweet: “Pride crowd shouting “we’re here, we’re queer” over the white supremacists.”

A Bozeman Pride attendee. (Photo by Kira Baum/Facebook)

State Representative Zooey Zephyr, (D-Missoula) who is an Out trans Montana lawmaker wrote: “We will not be intimidated by hatred here in Montana. Pride is our sanctuary. Pride is our protest. Pride is our continuous source of joy. And we will not let hatred take that joy away. We will dance, sing, and celebrate in defiance of the hatred that demands our silence.”

ABC Fox Bozeman KFBB-TV also reported:

The group walked up and down Main Street and other side streets while engaging with bystanders who shouted back at them. 

One bystander who engaged, Joseph Wood, ended up getting assaulted. 

Wood said he was walking near the group when one protester handed him a flyer. He continued walking near them and another protester tried blocking his path. 

They ultimately got into a verbal altercation that escalated into the man hitting Wood in the face with a shield, then another man pepper sprayed him. 

“He didn’t like that. So, he checked me with the shield, and then they, like, reached around and this dude, this dude with, like, he literally, like, hand comes from here point blank in my left eye. Like, the most painful part was that I could feel it, like in going into the eye, not just like spicy on top,” Wood said. 

KFBB also noted that the white supremacist anti-LGBTQ+ protestors left almost immediately after the pepper spray was deployed and as Bozeman Police and fire department personnel arrived to take care of Wood. 

He made a statement to the police then spent time in an ambulance getting his eyes and face flushed with saline solution. 

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Montana’s GOP Governor Gianforte signs TikTok ban

The Chinese-owned social media platform will be illegal in Montana starting Jan. 1, 2024, barring a successful court challenge



Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, (R) (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

HELENA – Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he had signed a bill banning Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok over concerns its data-sharing practices jeopardize user privacy and national security.

The ban, which the governor’s office said was the first of its kind in the nation, is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024, unless it is blocked in court.

“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gianforte said in a statement. “Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”

The company, owned by ByteDance, and the American Civil Liberties Union have said they intend to challenge the law, Senate Bill 419, as a violation of constitutionally protected free speech.

“With this ban, Governor Gianforte and the Montana legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information, and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” ACLU of Montana Policy Director Keegan Medrano said in a statement.

A TikTok representative also criticized the law in a statement Wednesday.

“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” said TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter. “We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The law will bar ByteDance from allowing “the operation of tiktok by the company or users” inside Montana’s “territorial jurisdiction” as long as the platform is owned by a company based in China or another country designated a “foreign adversary” by the federal government.

The law will also make it illegal for companies like Apple and Google to let their users download the platform’s app from their respective app stores. It does not include provisions that would allow the state to prosecute individual Montanans for circumventing the ban.

The law will be enforced by the Montana Department of Justice, which has the power to levy fines of up to $10,000 a day for violations.

Gianforte, a Republican, had previously signaled he would sign the bill in an email exchange where his office suggested amendments that would have expanded the bill’s scope to to apply to all social media platforms that allow users’ personal data to be provided to nations the federal government designates as “foreign adversaries.” Those revisions were nearly identical to an amendment brought by Democrats while the bill was debated on the House floor, where they were resisted by Republican supporters of the ban who argued the changes would make the bill “unworkable.”

The governor also issued a memo Wednesday directing state agencies to ban the use of other China- and Russia-based social media apps on state devices and networks. That ban, effective June 1, will cover ByteDance apps CapCut and Lemon8 in addition to TikTok, as well as Tencent’s WeChat, Pinduoduo’s Temu and Russia-based Telegram Messenger.

“One of government’s chief responsibilities is to keep its citizens – and their personal, private, sensitive information and data – safe and secure,” Gianforte wrote in that memo. “Foreign adversaries’ collection and use of Montanans’ personal information and data from social media applications infringe on Montanans’ constitutionally guaranteed individual right to privacy.”


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Eric Dietrich, Deputy Editor

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus’s student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019. 

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The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

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ACLU & legal groups sue Montana over trans youth healthcare ban

Montana health care providers and families challenge law banning Gender-Affirming care for transgender youth



The Missoula County Courthouse, seat of the 4th Judicial District of the Montana District Court (Photo by Matthew Field, used by permission)

HELENA – Transgender youth, their families, and their medical providers are challenging a sweeping new Montana law SB 99 banning transgender youth from accessing age-appropriate gender-affirming health care in court.

In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Montana, Lambda Legal, and Perkins Coie, two families with transgender youth and two medical providers who work with transgender youth are challenging SB 99, signed by Governor Gianforte in April 2023, which bans the only evidence-based care for gender dysphoria for transgender people under 18. The plaintiffs charge the law with violating their rights under the Montana Constitution, including the right to equal protection and the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

Plaintiffs include Jessica and Ewout van Garderen and their 16-year-old transgender daughter Scarlet, Molly and Paul Cross and their 15-year-old transgender son Phoebe, Dr. Juanita Hodax of Community Medical Center, and Dr. Katy Mistretta of Bozeman Creek Family Health.

“It is mentally and physically painful to feel like you are trapped in the wrong body,” said Jessica van Garderen, mother of a transgender daughter. “Going through puberty for the wrong sex is like having your body betray you on a daily basis. The only treatment we have found to be effective and give our daughter hope again is hormone therapy. The difference we have experienced is night and day and there is no going back. Taking away this crucial medical care is inhumane and a violation of our rights. We will fight this law for our daughter and every other family whose rights are being trampled.”

“I will never understand why my representatives are working to strip me of my rights and the rights of other transgender kids,” said Phoebe Cross, a 15-year-old transgender boy. “Just living as a trans teenager is difficult enough, the last thing me and my peers need is to have our rights taken away. There were many things I hoped my elected officials would achieve, this regression in human rights is not one of those things. The blatant disrespect for my humanity and existence is deeply unsettling.”

“SB 99 is a cruel broadside against the rights of transgender youth, their families, and their medical providers,” said Malita Picasso, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Politicians have no right to put themselves between patients and their doctors, and this law threatens the future of thousands of trans youth across the state. We’re confident this law will fall apart completely under the scrutiny of the court and we welcome this opportunity to defend trans youth and their families from this dangerous political attack.”

“We’ve entered a new era of competitive cruelty where politicians are trying to outdo one another in discrimination, as illustrated by the governor’s initial veto of the ban because it just wasn’t vicious enough,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Peter Renn. “This law represents government overreach on steroids.  The families targeted here have worked closely and carefully with qualified healthcare professionals to access the care they need.  It is reprehensible that politicians would barge into exam rooms to rip away life-saving treatment, in total defiance of science and medicine, after parents have finally found stability and hope for their children’s future.” 

The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose laws like SB 99. Similar restrictions on gender-affirming care have been enjoined in federal court in Alabama and Arkansas and are being challenged in federal court in Oklahoma and Tennessee. A state court in Missouri has stayed an effort by the Missouri attorney general to bar all gender-affirming care – for adolescents and adults – in that state.

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Montana Rep. Zooey Zephry asks journalist girlfriend to marry

State transgender lawmaker proposes to girlfriend: ‘She has made me the luckiest woman alive’ her girlfriend notes saying yes



Erin Reed accepting marriage proposal from her fiancée, Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr (kneeling). (Photo Credit: David Clumpner photography)

MISSOULA – During the second annual Queer Prom held Friday evening, May 5, at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, Democratic state Representative Zooey Zephyr surprised her girlfriend, journalist Erin Reed, by dropping to one knee and asking for her hand in marriage. The answer was an emphatic yes.

In a tweet Reed wrote: “At Queer Prom tonight, Zooey dropped to one knee and asked me to spend forever with her. I said yes. I can think of no better person in this world to stand side by side with. She has made me the luckiest woman alive.” This was followed by a tweet on Saturday where she wrote: “We are so extremely happy. I woke up this morning with her at my side and I know that no matter what, we’ve got each other.”

Reed, who is trans and writes extensively on transgender issues and politics for several outlets including the Los Angeles Blade, has covered a legislative season that has seen 17 states implement bans on gender-affirming care for trans kids and in two other instances, a ban for all ages gender-affirming care.

Reed’s fiancée was barred from speaking on the floor of the Montana House after Republicans, angered over her speaking out during debates on several anti-LGBTQ+ legislation including a bill that later passed barring trans youth from gender-affirming healthcare, banned her from the House Clamber.

The punitive action taken by House Republicans resulted in a massive show of support for the Missoula Democrat across all of the state beyond her home Missoula District 100 that she was elected to represent.

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Judge denies motion to block enforcement of Rep. Zephyr censure

“Plaintiffs’ requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds its authority”



Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, sits in a legislative committee. (Photo Credit: Mara Silvers / Montana Free Press)

By Mara Silvers | HELENA – A Helena district court judge on Tuesday denied Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s motion to temporarily block enforcement of House Republicans’ discipline against her — a punishment last week that banished her from the House chamber and barred her from debating legislation on the floor. The Missoula Democrat can still vote remotely and has been doing so from a makeshift workspace roughly 20 feet down the hall from the chamber.

The ACLU of Montana and two private law firms filed suit Friday on behalf of Zephyr and four of her constituents, claiming the actions of House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, and House Sergeant at Arms Brad Murfitt violate their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law. 

The sanction came after Zephyr made comments on the House floor against Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. She said that lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill would see blood on their hands, a reference to the increased risks of suicide for young people without access to medical treatments for gender dysphoria. 

Regier subsequently refused to recognize Zephyr on the House floor for multiple days, saying he was acting to uphold decorum in the chamber. Last Monday, Zephyr’s constituents and supporters protested from the House gallery when she was again ignored, leading to police, including some with face shields and batons, clearing the gallery and arresting seven protesters. Throughout the action, Zephyr remained standing by her seat, holding her microphone in the air, a display House Republicans later said encouraged protesters. The House voted to bar Zephyr from the House floor two days later in a party-line vote, 68-32.

Zephyr’s lawsuit asked that the discipline against her be unenforced for the remainder of the session and that she be allowed to speak on the House floor, an immediate remedy for what the lawsuit alleged was an irreparable harm. 

District Court Judge Mike Menahan, a former Democratic lawmaker, panned the requested solutions in his Friday ruling, saying the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their case and that the suggested intervention would be a breach of the separations of powers.

“Plaintiffs’ requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this Court’s authority. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief which far outpaces the facts at issue here,” Menahan wrote. 

“Even if the Court ultimately finds the House of Representatives, Speaker Regier, and Sergeant at Arms Murfitt acted unlawfully under the facts of this case, it does not have the authority to issue a broad permanent injunction to effectively remove all legislative authority under Article V Section 10 [of the Montana Constitution] in relation to a single member,” the judge continued.

Regier celebrated the ruling in a statement issued through a spokesperson late Tuesday. 

“The Montana courts have recognized that the Judicial Branch has no power to revise or overrule the power expressly held by the Montana State Legislature to conduct its business. The House is continuing its work for the people of Montana,” Regier said.

Zephyr slammed the ruling in a statement posted to Twitter Friday night, promising to continue fighting to represent her constituents.

“The court’s decision not to reinstate me undermines the democratic principles our country was founded on,” she wrote. “I vow to continue standing for my constituents & community to fight for our democratic institutions. If we can’t get justice in the courts, we will get it in the ballot box.”


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[email protected]

Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. 

More by Mara Silvers


The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.

Unbiased, unflinching journalism is critical to our democracy. When you donate to Montana Free Press, you are helping build a newsroom that serves the people of Montana, not advertisers or special interests. (Link)
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ACLU & silenced trans lawmaker sues Montana House leadership

“Rep. Zephyr was elected by the people of her district after running on the very principles she is now being punished for defending”



Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula) (Photo Credit: State Rep. Zooey Zephyr)

HELENA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. the law partners of Beck, Amsden, and Stalpes, and Mike Black, Esq. filed a lawsuit in state court today challenging the censure of State Representative Zooey Zephyr (HD 100).

The lawsuit alleges that recent actions undertaken by House leadership to silence Zephyr are a violation of her own First Amendment rights and the rights of her 11,000 constituents to representation in their state government.

“This effort by House leadership to silence me and my constituents is a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself,” said Zephyr. “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. 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. The Montana State House is the people’s House, not Speaker Regier’s, and I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard.”

“Suicide amongst transgender youth is not imaginary,” said Anna Wong, a resident of Montana House District 100 and a named party in the suit. “It is not a game and it is not a political foil. It is real. It is heartbreaking. And it is the responsibility of my representative to speak out against bills promoting it. I expected Representative Zephyr to oppose, and her comments leading to expulsion from the House floor, which I have listened to, seem incredibly measured and muted compared to the severity of the situation.”

“Representative Zephyr was elected by the people of her district after running on the very principles she is now being punished for defending,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the ACLU of Montana. “In his craven pursuit to deny transgender youth and their families the health care they need, Speaker Regier has unfairly, unjustly, and unconstitutionally silenced those voters by silencing their representative. His actions are a direct threat to the bedrock principles that uphold our entire democracy, and we welcome the privilege of defending the people of Montana’s 100th House District from this desperate and autocratic effort to silence them.”

Between April 20 and April 24, 2023,  House leadership repeatedly refused to recognize Rep. Zephyr, the state’s only openly transgender lawmaker, in all official proceedings. Following April 24 protests from Rep. Zephyr’s constituents who demanded she be allowed to speak, House Speaker Regier voted to formally censure  Zephyr on April 26, physically excluding her from the grounds of the State Capitol and denying her the right to engage in debate on important matters of public policy. The censure effectively denies her constituents adequate representation in their own state government.

When Rep. Zephyr showed up to work at the state capitol on April 27, she was told she could not enter the House chamber. In addition, since the censure, four study bills awaiting votes in the committees on which Zephyr sits were either transferred to a different committee or elevated to the house floor, effectively eliminating all public committee hearings in which she was scheduled to participate.

The censure unfairly and unconstitutionally targeted Zephyr for voicing her objection to SB 99, a ban on the rights of transgender youth and their families to access gender-affirming health care since signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte on April 28.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Montana, and Lambda Legal have promised to challenge SB 99 in court.

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Gov. Gianforte signs gender-affirming care ban for trans minors

“These bills are as cruel as they are unconstitutional,” Rep. Zooey Zephyr said. “And I have no doubt that they will go down in court”



Republican Governor Greg Gianforte with former Vice-President Mike Pence on May 13, 2022 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

By Mara Silvers | HELENA – Republican Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Friday signed a ban on gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender minors, making the state one of at least 11 that have passed similar laws this year

Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, is slated to take effect Oct. 1. If enacted, the new law will prohibit health care providers from providing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and a variety of surgeries to minors for the purposes of treating gender dysphoria. The bill makes exceptions for people receiving any of the listed services for the purposes of treating specific disorders of sex development.

The policy is part of a nationwide Republican agenda to restrict transition-related health care for transgender, nonbinary and two spirit people, most often applied specifically to minors. Montana’s bill consistently passed committee and floor votes along party lines. In a statement about the bill signing, Fuller said he is grateful for the bill signing and that the governor is “supporting the health and safety of Montana’s children.” 

Opponents of the legislation, including LGBTQ+ advocacy coalitions, civil rights groups and medical associations, criticized the governor’s decision Friday. The ACLU of Montana and other legal groups had previously pledged to try to block SB 99 in the courts, calling it “anti-science and discriminatory fear-mongering.” The organization doubled down on that stance in response to Gianforte’s decision.

“See you in court,” ACLU of Montana staff attorney Akilah Deernose said about SB 99 in a text message to MTFP Friday.

Republicans in Montana, conservative advocacy groups and members of the public who supported SB 99 repeatedly cast it as a necessary restriction on experimental and risky gender-affirming care. Those assertions have been refuted by major medical associations in Montana and nationwide that endorse the targeted medical services as part of a range of evidence-based best practices for supporting people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. 

In a statement last month, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and its U.S. affiliate, the leading organization that sets industry standards for care, said the wave of medical restrictions advancing around the country is geared toward “eliminating transgender persons on a micro and macro scale.”

“If and when these laws are enacted, they will undoubtedly lead to further harm for transgender and gender diverse people seeking this lifesaving care; these laws offer no protection in any way, shape, or form,” said U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health Care President Dr. Maddie Deutsch.

Montana medical providers opposed to SB 99 stressed Friday that the treatments listed in the bill will remain legal until October, and possibly later if the law is blocked in court.

“My bottom line to families is that this care remains legal,” said Dr. Kathryn Lowe, a Bozeman pediatrician and member of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “To all the families who are panicking, who are moving, who are listing their houses to sell … we have great hope that [SB 99] will never take effect.”

Gianforte’s decision came during a week of protest and upheaval at the Montana Legislature related to SB 99 and other bills affecting transgender people. Montana Free Press reported Wednesday that Gianforte’s second-oldest child, David Gianforte, identifies as nonbinary and has lobbied their father to veto the legislation. In late March, according to a statement shared with MTFP, David told their father that SB 99 and other bills were “immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”

Montana Highway Patrol officers make an arrest in the House gallery after a protest in support of Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, on April 24. Credit: Arren Kimbel-Sannit / Montana Free Press

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, and one of the state’s first openly transgender lawmakers, brought national focus to Montana after saying last week that lawmakers who voted for Gianforte’s version of the legislation would see “blood on their hands,” alluding to increased rates of suicide among transgender youth. She was then blocked from speaking on the House floor, leading to protests and arrests in the House chamber on Monday and subsequent punishment by House Republicans for her actions during the demonstration. 

Zephyr spoke out against the new law Friday, saying she had hoped the governor would listen to David Gianforte’s input and realize the harm the bill will do. Despite the governor’s decision, Zephyr said, she has hope that the law will fail to pass legal muster.

“These bills are as cruel as they are unconstitutional,” she said. “And I have no doubt that they will go down in court. But at this moment we have to care for our communities given that the government has failed to do so.”

Other transgender organizers echoed that sentiment Friday in response to Gianforte’s decision.

“There’s so much support in our communities for trans people and trans youth. And I feel very confident that the people who are in this fight are in it for the long haul and will not stop until Montana is the type of place where all of us can live the lives that we want to,” said Izzy Milch, an organizer with the progressive advocacy group Forward Montana. “The most important thing there is that trans people have been in Montana forever and will be in Montana forever.”


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Mara Silvers

[email protected]

Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. More by Mara Silvers


The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.


Unbiased, unflinching journalism is critical to our democracy. When you donate to Montana Free Press, you are helping build a newsroom that serves the people of Montana, not advertisers or special interests. (Link)

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Montana Republican governor’s son lobbies against LGBTQ laws

“The governor loves his family & values their perspectives. Our office will not discuss private conversations”



David Gianforte, 32, stands in his Bozeman home on April 25, 2023. (Photo Credit: Mara Silvers / MTFP)

By Mara Silvers | BOZEMAN – In late March, David Gianforte made an appointment to talk about three bills with Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, who happens to be his father.

David, 32, sat down in the governor’s office on March 27 with a prepared statement about legislation affecting transgender Montanans and the LGBTQ+ community generally, to which David says he belongs. He wanted to talk about Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming health care for minors; Senate Bill 458, a bill to define sex as strictly binary in Montana code; and House Bill 359, a ban on drag performances in many public spaces. Sitting across from his father in the governor’s office, with Gianforte’s top health adviser present, David said, he read his printed statement out loud. 

“Hey Dad. Thanks for setting aside time to meet with me, it means a lot to me,” David said. “There are a lot of important issues passing through the legislature right now. For my own sake I’ve chosen to focus primarily on transgender rights, as that would significantly directly affect a number of my friends … I would like to make the argument that these bills are immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”

David, who identifies as nonbinary and uses “he” and “they” pronouns, is the governor’s second oldest of four children. In an April 25 interview, he said he didn’t know what kind of impact lobbying his father, the governor, might have. But David said they felt strongly about using their connection and access to one of the state’s most powerful elected officials to bring more light to issues impacting LGBTQ+ Montanans. He said he initially reached out to his father over email, asking him “as your constituent and your son” to veto the legislation advancing toward his desk.

“I felt somewhat of an obligation to speak with him about it. Otherwise I would regret the missed opportunity,” David said.

The elder Gianforte responded hours later, according to an email exchange David provided to Montana Free Press, thanking David for writing about an issue that was important to him. 

“I would like to better understand your thoughts and concerns. When can we get together to talk about it?” the governor wrote, signing the email, “Love, Dad.”

David Gianforte, a Bozeman resident with a background in computer science, hasn’t previously spoken publicly about his gender identity or his relationship with his father, who in 2021 became Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years. He said his family, including siblings who live in other states, doesn’t typically discuss politics. David said that after he first told his parents he was gay in 2020, the family never talked about it at length again. Throughout the current legislative session, David said, he closely tracked the bills as they passed through the Republican-held chambers toward his father’s desk. They said they weighed whether to broach the topic with their father, and what might be risked in the process.

“I do have a family relationship with my father that I’m trying to preserve,” David said, adding that he didn’t engage with his father on legislation during the 2021 session. “I felt that the best way to go about this would be to reach out to him in a more formal manner. And he was very willing to meet with me.”

The governor’s office responded to a request for comment about David’s characterizations in a brief statement Tuesday night. 

“The governor loves his family and values their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Our office will not discuss private conversations between the governor and members of his family,” said press secretary Brooke Stroyke.

Throughout the session, much public and media attention has been focused on the bills David is concerned about. As of Friday, SB 99, the ban on gender-affirming health care for minors,  is the first to land on the governor’s desk and is awaiting his signature or veto. 

“It’s bizarre to me to read the press release that my father put out. He talks about compassion toward children, the youth of Montana, while simultaneously taking away health care from the youth in Montana. It’s basically a contradiction in my mind.”

~ David Gianforte

In addition to hours of testimony and lawmaker debates, a legislative tally updated Tuesday morning counted more than 1,500 phone calls and messages to lawmakers in support of Senate Bill 99 and more than 1,800 in opposition. Roughly 1,300 people respectively registered their favor and disfavor for Senate Bill 458, which would define “sex” in state law. The drag show restriction, HB 359, has garnered comments from nearly 246 proponents and 608 opponents and prompted drag performers to gather at the state Capitol in April for a highly visible demonstration and story hour.

The displays of emotion and tension the bills have caused in other parts of the statehouse haven’t triggered many public reactions from the governor’s wing on the second floor. Gianforte dodged questions at a March press conference about where he stands on SB 99. After being repeatedly pressed, Gianforte eventually told reporters that it is “extremely important we take the input of constituents and hear from all sides,” and added that he had met with transgender Montanans and their families about the bills.

Days before those remarks, David was one of the people urging the governor to veto the bill. In emails and in conversation during their meeting, David said, his father was thoughtful and stated a number of reasons for supporting the legislation. Even with their divergent perspectives, David said, he left the office feeling like a weight was off his shoulders. 

Weeks later, David said, his mood shifted. The governor sent SB 99 back to the Legislature with amendments that, in David’s view, did not make the legislation better for the state’s LGBTQ+ community. The changes included revised definitions of sex to account for children with intersex conditions, Gianforte said, and tightened prohibitions on the use of public funds for minors’ gender-affirming medical treatments. 

David said they had asked their father to think about transgender Montanans with empathy and compassion, even if the governor didn’t share their experiences. In his letter to lawmakers explaining the amendments, Gianforte referenced those same values — empathy and compassion — while also expressing support for the bill. To David, the letter didn’t make sense.

“It’s bizarre to me to read the press release that my father put out,” David said. “He talks about compassion toward children, the youth of Montana, while simultaneously taking away health care from the youth in Montana. It’s basically a contradiction in my mind.”

David said he knows transgender people who have benefitted from the medical services SB 99 would restrict, such as hormone therapy, including some who started taking those medications as teenagers. The other bills, he said, amount to invasions of privacy and attempts to curb the right of self-expression.

Gov. Greg Gianforte delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Montana Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. 
(Photo Credit: Samuel Wilson / Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

In committee hearings and floor debates, supporters of SB 99, the bill banning gender-affirming health care for minors, have focused on the government’s obligation to protect minors from making consequential medical choices before they turn 18. Backers of SB 458, which would define “sex” in state code, have placed a high value on defining sex as exclusively male or female based on reproductive characteristics. Some lawmakers who have spoken in favor of the bill banning drag performances in certain spaces have cast such shows as inherently sexual and inappropriate for minors. 

All three bills have largely passed along party lines, with Republicans supporting the legislation and Democrats opposing. SB 458 awaits a final vote in the Senate before it can head to Gianforte’s desk; HB 359 is scheduled for further deliberation by lawmakers from both chambers in a conference committee. 

Having grown up in a devout Christian household, raised on values his parents continue to publicly endorse, David said he attributes some Republican legislative support for the bills to lawmakers’ strongly held beliefs about how God created humans. He also said he sees the political party system as unaccommodating to diverse perspectives, and thinks that pressure to conform might be a factor influencing his father, too.

“He is concerned about his career. He has particular issues that he focuses on, such as jobs and the economy. And he’s aware that being able to stay in the position of governor is dependent on him staying in favor of the Republican Party,” David said. “And I believe that that affects his decisions on some of these bills.”

In recent days, David began publicly sharing their political sentiments. On Twitter last week, they shared a post from Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, the transgender lawmaker whose attempts to speak on the House floor have been continuously refused by Republican leadership because of comments she made criticizing Gianforte’s changes to SB 99, and any lawmaker who supported the amended bill. David also shared their own perspective.

“I stand in support of @ZoAndBehold and the entire LGBTQ+ community of Montana, which includes myself and many of my friends,” David wrote. “I have worked to oppose bills in the current MT Legislative session including SB 99 and SB 458.”

David said he doesn’t expect that his public remarks, or his conversation with his father, will change the outcome of any bill. But, David said, he doesn’t want to take part in sweeping issues under the rug. Only by speaking candidly and openly can people move forward, he said, in their own families or in the public sphere. 

“I feel like I have a voice and I can be heard. And I feel, not only in communicating with my father, that’s not necessarily the main point, but also just showing support for the transgender community in Montana,” David said. “I think that could be meaningful, especially at this time.”


Mara Silvers headshot white background

Mara Silvers

[email protected]

Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. More by Mara Silvers


The preceding piece was previously published by Montana Free Press and is republished with permission.


Unbiased, unflinching journalism is critical to our democracy. When you donate to Montana Free Press, you are helping build a newsroom that serves the people of Montana, not advertisers or special interests. (Link)

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