An Arizona Republican Lawmaker Compared Non-Binary People to Animals. Now He’s Facing An Ethics Complaint.

Arizona Legislature

By Lorraine Longhi

February 12, 2021

The complaint alleges Rep. John Fillmore continuously made “discriminatory and harassing comments” during public testimony.

Megan Mogan waited four hours for her turn to speak to Arizona lawmakers in the House of  Representatives on Wednesday. 

A Tucson resident and mother of three, Mogan appeared virtually in front of her representatives to testify against a bill that would prevent people from identifying as anything other than male or female on state documents.

Mogan, whose child is non-binary, said she wanted to enlighten lawmakers and promote empathy and understanding about the harmful impacts the bill could have on the lives of those in her family, and the effect it could have on her child in the future.

“I never in a million years thought that our lives would be so affected by this birth certificate, that hangs over us like this black cloud,” Mogan told The Copper Courier. “It follows us everywhere. I don’t want any non-binary child’s identification to follow them everywhere as they grow and develop as an adult.”

Instead, Mogan was met with mockery from a Republican lawmaker.

During the hearing, Rep. John Fillmore — a Republican representing Apache Junction and the bill’s sponsor — said he wanted to avoid some of the “identity ambiguousness” that was “overrunning the country.”

Fillmore made transphobic comments about transgender men using women’s bathrooms and compared gender nonconforming people to animals.

“What’s gonna happen when someday someone wakes up and they wanna go to a far extreme and identify as a chicken for crying out loud? Where do we draw the line?” Fillmore said. 

The bill, HB2725, was advanced by Republicans in the House Government and Elections Committee. The committee’s six Democrats voted against the bill.

Riley Behrens, an advocate who has worked on LGBTQ+ bills and mental health reform at the legislature, was in the hearing room Wednesday. Behrens told The Copper Courier that at least one other Republican lawmaker had mocked and disrupted the public testimony.

Behrens filed an ethics complaint with the House ethics committee against Fillmore and Rep. Kevin Payne, accusing them of unprofessional and immoral conduct. Behrens said he had never filed an ethics complaint through the House of Representatives before but made sure to file his complaint the same day the lawmakers made their comments.

“I didn’t want to feel like they could get away with it,” he said.

What Does the Complaint Say?

In two complaints filed Wednesday with the House of Representatives Ethics Committee, Behrens accused the Republican lawmakers of making discriminatory and harassing comments during Wednesday’s hearing.

In the complaints, filed separately for both Fillmore and Payne, Behrens asked the committee to investigate and make recommendations on whether the representatives should be censured and disciplined.

Under Arizona state law, the ethics committee has the power to investigate complaints made against its members, report the results of the investigation, and make recommendations on further action.

In his complaint against Fillmore, Behrens said Fillmore continuously made discriminatory and harassing comments during public testimony and called out Fillmore’s comparison of members of the LGBTQ+ community to a farm animal.

In his complaint against Payne, Behrens said Payne continuously disrupted public testimony and made a comment to himself, saying, “So it doesn’t know who it is?” in reference to the child of one of the community members who testified virtually.

Referencing any person as ‘it,’ particularly a child, is discriminatory and cannot be tolerated,” Behrens wrote in the complaint.

Payne and Fillmore engaged in conduct that compromised the character of the integrity of the Arizona State House of Representatives and showed “a lack of respect for members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Behrens said in the complaints.

During the committee meeting, Fillmore said he proposed the bill in an attempt to provide clarity on government documents, and did not mean to “disparage the binary or non-binary or whatever the nonconforming position that people want to take on that.”

According to the ethics committee’s rules of procedure, a copy of Behrens’ complaint will be provided to Fillmore and Payne, who will have the opportunity to respond to the complaint in writing.

Hostility Toward First-Time Constituents “Discourages” Public From Speaking

Mogan, the Tucson mother who testified Wednesday, told The Copper Courier that Wednesday was her first time giving public testimony before the legislature. As a Tucson resident, she couldn’t easily drive up to the Capitol and wait for hours to provide public testimony in person, she said.

Mogan said she was grateful for the opportunity to deliver her testimony remotely and took paid time off from work to make sure she had the time to speak. 

But she also described the experience testifying as difficult and stressful. 

Despite multiple requests to speak on the bill, and a request by Rep. Raquel Terán to hold the bill until a later date to allow for adequate time for discussion, committee Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh proceeded with a hearing on the bill and shortened the length of time for speakers to one minute, down from two minutes.

After waiting four hours for her turn to speak, Mogan said she felt a tremendous amount of pressure to try and fit her testimony into one minute.

“How do you really describe personal experiences in a minute?” Mogan said. “You’d think you’d have a little empathy for people who have never done this before.”

Behrens, who said he left the meeting in tears after hearing the remarks from Republican lawmakers, called Wednesday’s antics shocking and discouraging. He said he couldn’t imagine how everyday constituents, not used to the volatility of the legislature, were able to cope.

“I’m used to people yelling at me and people hanging up on me,” he said. “How is everyone else going to feel who doesn’t do this every day?”

The behavior from Republican lawmakers negatively affects the integrity of the Arizona House of Representatives, Behrens said.

“People are supposed to feel comfortable testifying in front of committees. This is the public process,” he said. “The disrespect is going to discourage people from wanting to speak at public processes like this.”

Mogan said she felt heartened by the comments from five of the committee’s Democratic representatives, all of which were women, to explain their no vote on the bill.

Terán, Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, Rep. Kelli Butler, and Rep. Athena Salman gave emotional testimony as they voted no on the bill, calling it cruel, harmful, and discriminatory.

Butler explained her vote in a tearful statement, calling the bill unnecessary and divisive, and Fillmore’s words disturbing and upsetting.

“I heard the mothers who were testifying. I’m a mother,” Butler said. “I cannot imagine having a child and feeling like they were being discriminated against, having to explain this to them, just because they’re different from someone else’s child,” Butler said.

Mogan said that hearing the passionate appeals for empathy from Democratic representatives who took the time to explain their votes publicly, all of them women, was not lost on her, Mogan said. 

“Just hearing them say that and put it on public record and think about how they have to go to that committee every week and do that kind of work…that bolsters me,” she said. 

“If they don’t have public support that adds to their voice, it makes their job harder. I want to support them because they’ve got an uphill climb,” she said.

Do you have a story about being dismissed or shut down at the Legislature? Reach out to the reporter at [email protected] or 480-243-4086.




AZ Tucson Food Voting image

Local News

Related Stories
Share This