While the acceptance of the LGBT community and its rights is on the right course, a handful of those in the upper echelons of Capitol Hill are not quite up to par. Same-sex marriage is legal in many states now, but politicians — especially those from the GOP — fearful of alienating the more conservative bloc of their constituents, typically remain tight-lipped about their views. But on Thursday, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen opened up about her transgender son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, as they both discussed their experience wading through the murky waters of sexual identity in an interview with CBS Miami.
Rodrigo, assigned female at birth, told CBS:
I think coming out as transgender is really about coming out as your authentic self, coming out as the person you always knew you were but no one else may have known. And now you are sharing that honesty with other people for the first time.
Rodrigo hails from a prestigious family — his mother, Ros-Lehtinen, was the first Cuban-American woman to be elected to Congress; his father, Dexter Lehtinen, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida was in charge of prosecuting Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega; and his grandfather, Enrique Ros, was an unyielding Cuban-American author who, until his death last year, strong opposed Castro.
Despite growing up in a household that held conservative values, Rodrigo said his family was "really, really supportive" of his decision. Ros-Lehtinen told CBS:
As parents we wanted to make sure Rigo understood we were totally fine with it, we wanted to make sure he was safe. Our society is sometimes not inviting and not caring enough and there is no mystery that LGBT kids when they are younger are bullied... We know Rigo as our child, whether it’s Amanda or now as Rodrigo, he’s our son, we’re proud of him.
In 2011, Ros-Lehtinen made headlines for becoming the first ever Republican to co-sponsor a bill that repealed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that banned same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that DOMA was unconstitutional. On top of her progressive views on LGBT rights, Ros-Lehtinen also appears to have a sense of humor:
The Florida Republican is one of the founding members of the LGBT Equality Caucus that is committed to fighting for equal rights of the LGBT community. She was also the first Republican of Congress to pose in this awesome photo for NOH8, a charitable group promoting equality in response to California passing Proposition 8. A pretty cool woman, all in all.
The CBS interview was Rodrigo's first time talking about being transgender publicly, noting that he was more "introverted" than his mother, who naturally is used to being in the public eye. He also said that he was surprised at the source of external support upon transitioning, too.
The Republican Party is generally thought of as not being supportive of LGBT rights, but what was interesting (was) there were so many Republican people I know, whether they were family friends of mine, whether they were friends I met through my mother’s campaigns when I was growing up, people who identify as conservative as Republican who vote by those values. And they are saying, "You know what, I support you and I support these rights and this is an eye opening experience."
I know that’s surprising, the stereotype often is Cuban Americans would be more conservative, but this is another one of those areas where I got really surprised in 2010 in my public coming out. Because I had feared that maybe that would be the case, that the backlash might be stronger. But again the actual response I got from people so ran contrary to that to my great relief. I was very happy to have been wrong about that.
Kudos to this awesome family and Rodrigo's support system — now if only the rest of those fuddy-duddies in the GOP would catch up.