As debates over transgender issues embroil Montana’s legislature, the governor has faced lobbying from someone close to him: his son, who identifies as nonbinary and has pleaded with his father to reject what he called “immoral, unjust” bills backed by Republicans.
In an interview with The Montana Free Press published Wednesday, David Gianforte, who uses he and they pronouns, said he had sat down with his father, Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, last month with a prepared statement in hand to read aloud.
David Gianforte, 32, told The Montana Free Press, a nonprofit news outlet, that he had written down why he believed bills that were gaining traction in the State Senate and House would be harmful to the L.G.B.T.Q. community, to which he belongs.
On March 27, he began his meeting with Governor Gianforte and his top health adviser with a familial introduction, according to The Free Press: “Hey Dad. Thanks for setting aside time to meet with me.”
“There are a lot of important issues passing through the legislature right now,” David Gianforte told his father. “For my own sake I’ve chosen to focus primarily on transgender rights, as that would significantly directly affect a number of my friends.”
He argued that the bills — which would restrict transition care, define sex as binary and ban minors from attending drag shows — were “a violation of human rights.”
It’s unclear what effect the meeting had on the governor.
“I would like to better understand your thoughts and concerns,” Governor Gianforte wrote his son in an email that was signed, “Love, Dad,” and obtained by The Free Press.
David Gianforte declined to comment on Thursday. A spokeswoman for Governor Gianforte said in a statement that the governor “loves his family and values their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives,” and that his office would not discuss private family conversations.
The report of the father-son meeting provided a remarkable snapshot of a family whose fractured views of the transgender bills reflected those playing out across the state. It also underscored how personal such debates have been, even in the Gianforte family, whose patriarch appeared poised to back his Republican colleagues and sign the bills into law.
Montana is one of many states across the nation where lawmakers are considering a raft of new bills on transgender issues. These include measures that would limit transition care, define sex in binary terms and forbid public school students from changing their pronouns without parental permission.
Montana’s legislation has exploded into the national consciousness during an escalating standoff between Republican lawmakers and a transgender representative over her remarks in opposition to the bill banning transition care for minors.
On Wednesday, the state’s House of Representatives blocked the lawmaker, Zooey Zephyr, from the House floor for the remainder of the legislative session. She then spent much of Thursday sitting outside the main chamber of the State House, exiled from the floor debate, but checking the proceedings on her laptop.
This year, 11 states have passed laws prohibiting transition care for young people. Previously, just three state legislatures had enacted full or partial bans. The barrage of state legislation is part of a long-term campaign by conservative organizations to use transgender issues as a way to motivate voters and raise money.
The efforts have thrust the roughly 1.3 million U.S. adults and 300,000 adolescents who identify as transgender into the center of one of the nation’s most pitched political battles.
Conservative legislators across the country have characterized transition care as harmful and experimental, arguing that adolescents should not be allowed to begin medically transitioning before they become adults. But major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support this care and say that banning it poses serious mental health risks to young people.
David Gianforte said in The Free Press interview that his father had been thoughtful in their meeting, and that the governor had listed reasons for supporting the bills. His father, he said, is “concerned about his career” and is “aware that being able to stay in the position of governor is dependent on him staying in favor of the Republican Party.”
Still, David Gianforte appeared to be let down by his father’s actions, especially after Governor Gianforte wrote a letter on April 17 to lawmakers explaining amendments to the bills.
The governor wrote that he had met with transgender people and understood that “their struggles are real, and my heart goes out to them.” But the governor also noted that gender-affirming care was a misleading term and compared it to “Orwellian Newspeak.”
David Gianforte said that he found his father’s letter “bizarre,” The Free Press reported.
“He talks about compassion toward children, the youth of Montana, while simultaneously taking away health care from the youth in Montana,” he said. “It’s basically a contradiction in my mind.”