In a front line state in the escalating US culture war over transgender rights, a son made an unsuccessful plea to his powerful father on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
David Gianforte, 32, who uses he and they pronouns and identifies as nonbinary, is the son of Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.
The father and son sat down in the governor’s office on March 27, as reported in the Montana Free Press, for a meeting that shines light on the growing divisions across the country over transgender issues and legislation aimed at restricting transition health care and codifying binary definitions of sex and gender.
David Gianforte told the nonprofit news organization that via email he requested the meeting with the governor “as your constituent and your son.”
The reason for the sit-down was to ask Greg Gianforte to veto legislation, such as a state senate bill that would ban gender-affirming medical and surgical care for transgender minors, codify binary definitions of sex and gender, and prohibit minors from attending adult-oriented shows at state-funded libraries or schools and adult-oriented performances in adult-oriented businesses, according to the Free Press.
On Friday, Gianforte signed the bill banning gender-affirming health care for minors – the first to reach his desk. Kaitlin Price, a spokesperson for the governor, said Gianforte is “committed to protecting Montana children from invasive medical treatments that can permanently alter their healthy, developing bodies.”
At the late March meeting with the governor, the younger Gianforte read from a prepared statement, according to the Free Press: “Hey Dad. Thanks for setting aside time to meet with me, it means a lot to me.”
He added, “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 Gianforte, in the Free Press interview published on Wednesday, said he felt an obligation to raise his concerns with his father. “Otherwise I would regret the missed opportunity.”
The governor had responded to his son’s request for a meeting hours after receiving the email, according to the Free Press.
“I would like to better understand your thoughts and concerns. When can we get together to talk about it?” the elder Gianforte wrote. The governor closed the email with, “Love, Dad,” the Free Press reported.
David Gianforte told CNN he is “not intending to give additional interviews at this time.”
The governor’s deputy communications director, Brooke Metrione, referred CNN to a statement in the Free Press.
“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,” the statement said.
Governor signs bill into law despite plea from his son
The meeting between the governor and his son comes at a time when more than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the US – more than twice the number introduced all of last year, according to American Civil Liberties Union data as of April 3.
Specifically, the number of education and health care-related bills has reached unprecedented levels. In addition to a renewed push to ban access to gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, other bills focus heavily on regulating curriculum in public schools – including discussions around gender identity and sexuality.
The bill Gianforte signed into law on Friday, the “Youth Health Protection Act,” says it seeks to “enhance the protection of minors and their families” from “any form of pressure to receive harmful, experimental puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and to undergo irreversible, life-altering surgical procedures prior to attaining the age of majority.”
In a statement on Twitter, Montana House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, a Democrat, said the measure “eliminates the rights of health care providers, the rights of parents, and the rights of children.”
“I’m deeply dissapointed in the Governor for signing this bill into law and prioritizing poisonous political rhetoric over Montanans’ fundamental liberties,” Abbott said.
The Human Rights Campaign condemned the governor for signing the bill that would “make it effectively impossible for health care practitioners to provide age-appropriate, best practice, gender affirming care to transgender youth.”
“It would also forbid state employees who work with minors from ‘promoting’ treatment for gender dysphoria, chilling the ability of educators, public health workers, child care workers, and employees of state medical facilities to be able to do their job,” the advocacy group said.
Montana Human Rights Network described the law as “discriminatory” and said it “contradicts established best medical practices and prevents transgender youth from getting the safe, lifesaving care they need to live as their authentic selves.”
“The Governor’s decision to sign this bill, despite overwhelming testimony from transgender Montanans, parents, and medical professionals is deeply disturbing,” the statement continued.
Montana’s House votes to ban transgender representative
The signing of the controversial measure comes days after Montana’s Republican-dominated House voted to ban Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who had said GOP lawmakers would have “blood” on their hands for passing bills restricting transgender rights. Zephyr rallied protesters on Monday after Speaker Matt Regier blocked her from being recognized to speak from the House chamber for the remainder of this year’s legislative session.
Zephyr, a 34-year-old Democrat from Missoula, last year became the first woman who identifies as transgender elected to Montana’s legislature.
Under the disciplinary measure, Zephyr will be allowed to retain her seat and cast votes remotely. But she will not be able to participate in debates.
“We have a week and a half left of the session, and we’ll be covering important topics — housing bills, the state’s budget — and every bill that goes forward for the remainder of this session, there will be 11,000 Montanans whose representative is missing, whose voices cannot be heard on those bills,” Zephyr told CNN on Wednesday.
David Gianforte last week defended Zephyr on Twitter:
“I stand in support of @ZoAndBehold and the entire LGBTQ+ community of Montana, which includes myself and many of my friends. I have worked to oppose bills in the current MT Legislative session.”
The elder Gianforte, who was sworn in as governor in 2021, has four children. David Gianforte said in the interview that he first told his parents he was gay in 2020.
The governor’s son told the Free Press he didn’t expect his public statements or sit-down at the State Capitol in Helena to halt the controversial bills from becoming law.
“He is concerned about his career,” David Gianforte told the news organization. “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. And I believe that that affects his decisions on some of these bills.”
David Gianforte told the Free Press he urged his father to treat the transgender community in Montana with empathy and compassion. To talk “about compassion toward children, the youth of Montana, while simultaneously taking away health care from the youth,” David Gianforte said, was “basically a contradiction in my mind.”
CNN’s Rebekah Riess, Joe Sutton, Eric Bradner, Raja Razek, Amanda Jackson, Devon Cole, Paradise Afshar, Emma Tucker, Lucy Kafanov, and Annette Choi contributed to this report.