Murray Lawyer Talks LGBTQ Issues And Living As A Trans Woman In West Ky.
The rights of transgender men and women are once again at the center of a national debate after a wave of anti-trans bills were brought to at least 35 state legislatures this spring. A Murray lawyer who identifies as trans shares her thoughts about the legislation, concerns for her community, and what it’s like to live openly in western Kentucky.
39-year-old Madison Leach practices criminal defense and family law. She was a public defender for two years before the heavy caseload led her to open a private practice. Leach has been living as openly trans since 2017. She said the decision to do this was driven by a feeling she’s had since childhood: that her sex didn’t match her gender, and that it didn’t match how she felt and related to others.
“In 2014, I started going to therapy and talking it out with a therapist, and I realized a lot of the things I was feeling was the cruelty of looking in a mirror and realizing how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself doesn’t match,” Leach said.
She said after law school she decided to start living for herself. This was a scary and uncertain time for her, she said. If she could, she would tell her past self that she wouldn’t lose her career or her family by transitioning. In fact, Leach said she’s gotten the full support of those who are close to her. But when it comes to her professional life, she still chooses to present more masculine when she appears in court with her clients.
“When I walk in a courtroom I have someone else’s life in my hands, and that’s been the most difficult struggle,” she said. “So, if you see me in a courtroom anywhere I’m probably still going to be wearing a tie.”
Though law can be a largely male-dominated field, Leach said west Kentucky has a lot of female attorneys she feels have oftentimes “put a hedge around her” for protection. She said many of the judges are also supportive of her transition and most will use correct pronouns when they see her outside of court. Leach said she isn’t entirely sure when to make a full transition in the courtroom, but will do it in a way that fully protects her clients. But even with this support from her family and career, she said her journey has not been easy.
“Y’know, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes you just can't muster the ability to present in the way you want cause you just want to go to the grocery store and get out of there without somebody ‘hissing’ at you,” Leach said.
She said while most are accepting of her transition, dirty glances from strangers and small snarky comments make it difficult to be comfortable just doing everyday things.
Leach said she is active in fighting for LGBTQ rights, and something that concerns her are the bills targeting transgender people entered more than half of the country’s state legislatures this spring. Some bills restricting trans youth from getting gender affirming healthcare and other legislation prevent transgender people from competing on sports teams as the gender they identify.
Leach said when she thinks about issues affecting her community, she is most concerned with the high rates of suicide among trans youth and violence against trans people. She said young people not feeling accepted by their loved ones is what she believes to be the biggest cause of suicide among trans youth. She said the current bills on the table are missing the point, considering trans people — particularly women of color — are being killed at high rates.
LGBTQ advocacy group The Human Rights Campaign said 2020 was a record-breaking year for deadly violence against transgender people with 44 fatalities, since the group started tracking U.S. fatalities in 2013. The HRC states 2021 has seen a total of 27 fatalities so far, not even halfway through the year, with most of them women of color.
“People think that the struggle for gay and LGBTQ rights ended when we got marriage equality, and when the court entered that ruling, but when we look at Title VII and when we look at Title IX and some of the battles in the courtroom, and the legislation being sought, we know that case was just the beginning,” Leach said.
Leach said explicitly adding trans people to fall under gender discrimination protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act is the type of legislation she would like to see instead. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ people were protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but it hasn’t been added to the official language of the law.
Leach said as communities acknowledge Pride month, she is thankful for the sacrifices of LGBTQ activists before her.
“No matter how many ‘hisses’ I get at the grocery store, I don’t get harassed by cops for merely existing anymore, and that’s a struggle I owe to the ancestors of the community and where we come from. And it gives me pride,” she said.
Leach said she’s hopeful for the future. She recently had her name officially changed. She said she has been driven to get involved with local politics by recent events involving the Confederate monument in downtown Murray, and is considering a run for Judge/Executive in Calloway County. She said as time moves forward, she wants to become even more accepting of who she is.
“If my doctor, my priest, and my family are all for it, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, but that’s the most difficult part, just figuring out how you want to present yourself to the world,” she said.