With the number of anti-transgender bills already doubling around the country this year, many families raising transgender kids have very tough decisions to make, like a family that moved to Maryland from Texas.
"We are political refugees in our own country,” Camille Rey said.
The Reys’ journey began three years ago when Leon, now 10, revealed something to his parents they never saw coming.
“Leon pipes up in the background, and he says, ‘But I don't love myself,’ and I was like, ‘What?’" said his mother, Camille Rey.
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"He voiced that he basically has a boy brain in a girl body," said Homero Rey, Leon’s father.
Camille and Homero Rey, who are both scientists, realized they needed to learn how to raise their transgender child.
"Mentally, you have to, like, rewire yourself, because, yeah, you're thinking girl, girl, girl, and now it's boy and it is a mental shift,” Homero Rey said. “I did it gladly because I knew that's what he needed.”
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Camille Rey said she never thought about losing her little girl.
“No, I don't go there. No,” she said. “And I've met other parents of transgender kids who go through that mourning process or whatever. I was like, No, we misgendered him. He's always been him. I didn't lose anything."
The family did all they could do to support Leon – beginning therapy, using male pronouns and starting gender-affirming treatment, which came under attack in Texas.
“I was like, OK, not on my watch," Camille Rey said.
She went from mom to advocate, spending weeks protesting anti-trans bills at the state capitol in Austin and testifying in support of children like Leon.
"Access to age-appropriate treatment for transgender youth is an immediate issue for my family," she told a state senate committee on state affairs.
"Many of these parents never signed up to be activists, but they feel like they have to to protect their child, because their child's life and happiness is on the line," said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director for The National Center for Transgender Equality.
He said they're hearing from families around the country that are desperate for help.
"With all of the rising attacks, especially in state legislatures, it has really sent a message to young transgender people that the world doesn't support them, that the world doesn't love them back, and that's an incredibly isolating burden to have to bear,” Heng-Lehtinen said.
"There's something very callous about going after such a vulnerable community like that, you know, kids and their families who are just trying to support them,” he said.
That's why the Reys left Texas. They picked Maryland after Camille Rey googled “best places to raise LGBTQ families.”
“It's good,” Leon said. “I like that there's, like, all four seasons."
Camille Rey said Leon is a different kid in Maryland.
"He doesn't think about this issue every day,” she said. “We don't think about the issue every day."
But the family's fight for all transgender children continues, selling T-shirts to raise awareness.
"Leon had the courage to stand up and be himself, and he's giving the rest of us permission to do the same,” Camille Rey said. “[What] I've learned from Leon is to be myself."
"He is a gift," she said.
Texas along with more than a dozen states have banned gender-affirming care for minors. The American Medical Association, along with other major medical organizations, opposed the bans and supported the care for youth when administered appropriately.
Reported by Tracee Wilkins, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.
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