Attorney Madison Leach stands outside the Calloway County Courthouse in Murray. Leach, a transgender woman, has said she plans to stop practicing law in Kentucky and move to New York, in the wake of anti-transgender legislation that recently passed the state legislature.

MURRAY — Maxx Bryson, as a child, always tended to like stereotypically feminine things — tutus, sparkles, the color pink.

But even during preschool years, Maxx — then still identifying as a girl — felt he didn’t want all the things that came with womanhood.

“Whenever my mom would talk about getting pregnant and stuff, I was like, ‘I’m not doing that,’ ” said Maxx, 14, in a recent interview.

As an example, Maxx didn’t want to develop breasts and expressed the desire to have them removed one day. It wasn’t until his later childhood years that Maxx began to realize consciously that he was different — first believing in fifth grade he was bisexual, then realizing he’s transgender and coming out to his family in 2021.

Over the past two years, he’s undergone various evaluations as well as continued counseling, and has socially transitioned at school. Too late for puberty blockers, he’s been taking birth control in an attempt to control menstruation, which has lately been less effective.

Hormonal birth control is widely used for other medical reasons, including treatment of ovarian disorders, to control heavy periods or acne, treat excess hair growth or even lower the risk of some cancers. But under a new bill recently passed by the Kentucky legislature, Maxx would no longer be able to take birth control considering its purpose is to help with his gender transition.

Originally a House bill (HB 470) banning gender-affirming care (including affirming mental health care) for minors, the bill underwent several revisions before being tabled by the Senate. On Thursday, March 16, with just hours to go in order to pass the bill in time to override an expected veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, the House added the HB 470 language into a previous Senate bill (SB 150).

That bill also includes language restricting teaching regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, as well as disallowing state and local agencies from adopting policies that teachers use pronouns consistent with trans students’ gender identities. The bill also bars transgender students from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identities.

Beshear, on a recent trip to survey storm damage near Paducah, spoke with The Paducah Sun regarding his opposition to the bill.

“I think every child is a child of God,” Beshear said, citing research from the American Medical Association and The Trevor Project showing that such bills are likely to increase suicide rates among children.

“I can’t be for anything that’s going to cause more of our children to take their own lives.”

Beshear also pointed to the bill’s blanket ban that bars children from seeking medical care even if both parents would consent to the care.

“It also tears away decisions from parents and families, medical decisions about their own children. Those ought to be able to be made by those parents and families,” Beshear said.

“I think certain legislators can’t say they’re for parents’ rights when, in this instance, they’re tearing away the ability to make medical decisions from those parents, and the state is going to make medical decisions for children instead of families.”

State Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, was instrumental in some of the bill’s revisions before the Senate tabled the measure, and was the only Republican to vote against the bill that passed on Thursday.

Carroll declined requests for comment following the bill’s passage.

For area attorney Madison Leach, the state’s intrusion equates to “practicing medicine without a license.”

Leach, 41, began her own transition with hormones six years ago, though she said she knew she was transgender even during childhood. She simply didn’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to express how she was feeling.

“I remember being 20, 21 years old. … I used to dream about cutting all ties with anybody I knew and just … disappearing and transitioning.”

Now, living fully out and undergoing more significant transition procedures, Leach said she’s found many in the area — including in the legal community — to be supportive of her transition.

“Every judge that I’ve talked to about it has been considerate and affirming, even when they’re conservative and don’t necessarily believe it’s for them,” Leach said.

“They believe so much in freedom in this country.”

The passage of SB 150, though it wouldn’t restrict care for Leach, proved part of a larger pattern she sees in bills targeting issues significant to the LGBTQ+ community she can’t ignore, including the work on an anti-drag bill.

Leach recently announced she’s applying for the New York Bar, and plans to leave the area and move to New York City, where she won’t feel the government is trying to erode her right to be herself.

“If this state wasn’t a one-party system … and this constant lambaste where they’re threatening to take away my health care, and just attacking my community, I just feel like I need to go,” said Leach, adding she sometimes feels guilt about “whether I’m giving up the fight.”

“When is it time to leave an area that’s so strongly against you?” she said.

Leach and Jennifer Bryson both expressed concerns that increasing restriction on LGBTQ+ expression and care could have an anti-business impact on Kentucky as a whole, potentially pushing away larger companies where employees or their families may be part of sexual minorities.

Bryson criticized then-HB 470 as “an immoral and evil bill that’s going to hurt children and kill people.”

Maxx said that despite some bullying he’s endured at school, he doesn’t want to move, and feels most kids around his age don’t really care about his transition — and he takes that in a good way.

But asked how he feels about the possible fallout from the bill, Maxx simply said “scared.”

He has been receiving birth control treatments at Vanderbilt, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender children, meaning Maxx will have to find other care out of the area.

Considering the idea that he might not be able to access any affirming care, essentially being forced to detransition, Maxx said he would feel “sad.”

His mother said she appreciates that some opponents of gender-affirming care for minors may feel that way out of a sense of “misguided” kindness, but she blames politicians who are finding “buttons to push” to get outrage votes, or using vulnerable LGBTQ+ communities as a test case for more significant restrictions down the road.

And far from protecting already vulnerable children, Bryson said bills like this can embolden bullying, not just on an individual scale, but on a cultural scale.

“We need to be protecting their mental health and looking at ways to bolster that,” Bryson said.

“It does scare me that we are on this slippery slope of government interference in human choice, and that we are putting the government in between doctors and patients. That is terrifying to me,” she said.

Leach likened the ban on affirming care to conversion therapy, a widely discredited approach that attempts to persuade LGBTQ+ people into becoming heterosexual and/or cisgender.

“Conversion therapy is to do harm, and that’s the only alternative,” she said.

Following the bill’s passage last Thursday, Leach quoted the Bible, claiming Republican legislators’ changes showed they “loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.”

Leach said she’s unsurprised by people invalidating her identity, but the government response has been shocking.

“It doesn’t feel like America anymore.”