Madison Leach makes history in western Kentucky

Berry Craig
Berry Craig
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By BERRY CRAIG

No matter who wins the race for Calloway County attorney, Democrat Madison Leach has made history.

She’s apparently the first openly trans candidate to seek elected office in western Kentucky, one of the state’s most conservative corners.

Leach is challenging incumbent Bryan Ernstberger, a conservative Republican. The Democrat concedes that she’s the underdog, but not just because she’s trans.

Calloway County is deeply hued Republican Red. Like Ernstberger, most elected officials belong to the GOP. Donald Trump twice carried the county in landslides. “But I think this race will be closer than people think,” Leach said.

She’s been expecting some anti-trans bigotry. “I've been waiting for the hammer – waiting for somebody to say something,” said Leach, 40, an attorney in Murray, the county seat. “But it hasn’t happened. People even come up to me in the grocery store and say they are voting for me.”

Leach likes to cite the late Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country. Elevated to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk was assassinated in 1978. “Harvey Milk told LGBTQ folks to come out of the closet because it is a whole lot harder to hate you to your face,” Leach said.

She added that some people hate LGBTQ people anyway. “I’ve been spit on in the grocery store in Murray. Murray claims to be the friendliest town in the country, and lately I’ve been seeing that better side.”

A native of nearby McCracken County, Leach was married and had a son — now 12 — when she came out as trans in 2015 and began taking estrogen. Leach and her wife divorced; Leach is engaged to a woman.

“Since I became trans, I've always been open about who I am. As an attorney especially, people need to know who I am.”

Leach has long hair; she applies face makeup and paints her nails. But she dresses conservatively, “like any other 40-year-old-woman who’s a lawyer.”

Leach wears a jacket and trousers in the courtroom. “I don't want to be a distraction in court,” she said. “But my clothes are from the women’s section.” She wears similar attire on the campaign trail.

She was warmly received at a recent fish fry sponsored by the county Democratic party. She shared the stage with Democratic Senate candidate Charles Booker and Jimmy Ausbrooks, the Democratic hopeful for Congress from the First District. All three drew loud applause and cheering.

Leach conceded that “not every trans person has had it as easy as I have in Calloway County. But I think this election helps more than it hurts with trans visibility for everybody. I think that by running, I am giving some visibility to the issue and making it harder to demonize trans-gender folks.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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