When Zooey Zephyr’s flight touched down in Missoula, Montana, the results of her race for the 100th district of the Montana House of Representatives were falling. She celebrated on board, surrounded by her constituents, when she learned she was elected Montana’s first transgender state representative.
She was the last to get off the plane when the flight attendant asked, “What makes you so happy?” Zephyr said in an interview with ABC News.
Zephyr told her that she had won her election, to which the stewardess congratulated her.
“I took a few steps away, then turned around and said, ‘I’m actually going to be the first trans woman to hold office in this state,'” Zephyr told ABC News. “And she just started crying. And she said, “My son is trans. Can I hug you?'”
Zephyr said the flight attendant told her how his transition was going and how the world is “a little bit scary right now,” citing the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ laws and rhetoric being promoted by politicians across the country .
The flight attendant told Zephyr that she was and always will be her son’s number one defender.
“Moments like that felt somewhere between random and sacred, and she hugged me. And we left with tears in our eyes,” Zephyr said. The story, which she later posted to Twitter, gave her renewed hope.
“It confirms what I knew…that you’re never far from someone who loves us. And that was true on the plane and it was true when it was posted, and I know it’s true for so many trans people and parents and families of trans people,” Zephyr said.
According to political advocacy group Victory Fund, Zephyr is one of more than 300 LGBTQ candidates filling elected roles across the country.
She says her victory feels bigger than she does: “I’m more thinking about what it means for my state to have a trans voice in this space, both for myself and for the non-binary, trans non-binary candidate who won her election, SJ Howell. When these anti-trans laws are brought before the Montana legislature, there will be trans representation. And it makes a difference.”
She said that in the few days of legislative orientation she had to learn the basics of the state legislature among her peers, she had already “seen the difference” she was making.
“I’ve been approached by a bunch of Republican lawmakers who said, ‘Hey, I want you to know you’re going to get a lot of you-know-what here, but I’m really glad you’re here. Nice that you are here. You let me know when people are giving you trouble,'” she said.
She continued, “We were able to have very pleasant conversations and stay in touch and form the kind of relationship that I believe over time will help people understand what it’s like to be trans in America today.” .”
And even though Montana is a red state, Zephyr said it runs on progressive values, promising better housing, tax breaks, mental health and LGBTQ rights.
She said her victory proves that attempts to defame LGBTQ people are not a winning strategy.
However, the attack on LGBTQ bar Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado along with several other recent violent threats against the LGBTQ community left her deeply hurt.
She says it reflects the impact harmful political rhetoric can have against LGBTQ people.
“[Far-right politicians] Foster fear in their constituents and media, take these talking points and wash them and give them a sense of legitimacy,” Zephyr said. “And then someone will believe it, so deeply that they will track us down and kill us. And that, to me, is history repeating itself and repeating itself. And the story we need to fix.”
She called on people who feel motivated by the ongoing attacks on marginalized groups to get involved in their communities – it has pushed her into politics.
“It starts with rooting yourself in your community, finding the place and places where people need help. And then just tirelessly helping,” she said. “You can get involved, whether you testify, whether you work at your local nonprofits, you’re always very close to doing the work you want to do. And for me, that meant getting into a space where my voice could do good.”