One of South Florida’s longest-serving politicians gave her constituents an intimate glimpse of her private life at a unique news conference.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen more typically stands before cameras to denounce Cuba’s Castro regime. On Monday, she stood before the cameras to launch a far different public service campaign: one that urges parents not to turn their backs on their transgender children. Parents like her and her husband Dexter.
The emotional Lehtinens made their plea standing at the podium with their transgender son, Rodrigo, 30, who works for GLADD.
The scene was unique, even by Miami standards, and heartwarming, too. One must acknowledge the bravery of this couple, so well-known in conservative political circles, discussing their personal journey and, in doing so, taking a stance likely unwelcome by some constituents.
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Ms. Ros-Lehtinen is a Republican congressional member who chaired the House Foreign Affairs committee; her husband was once the region’s acting U.S. Attorney, who prosecuted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.
On Monday the accomplished pair offered a touching portrait of unconditional parental love.
The couple, which has spoken about their transgender son before, is going hyper public on behalf of South Florida’s leading LGBT-rights group, SAVE. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, her husband and their son are the stars the stars in a bilingual campaign to encourage other parents of transgender children to support them.
In essence, they’ve volunteered to be the South Florida poster family for the needed campaign. Good for them.
In the bilingual public service announcement, called “Family is Everything,” the Lehtinens give a parents’ point of view on coping with this life-changing decision by a child. “Our son is transgender. We loved him as Amanda, and now as Rodrigo,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen says into the camera.
It’s a simple, powerful message they hope will help the estimated 60 percent of youthful transgender individuals who are rejected by their family. That leaves them vulnerable at a time when personal safety is a concern in light of current developments like the North Carolina “bathroom bill.”
Perhaps without meaning to, the couple conveyed the picture of parents who have struggled with a difficult family situation but have now not only privately accepted the change in their child but made a decision to publicly support him.
“I’m just proud to be part of it,’’ a tearful Dexter Lehtinen told the crowd about the campaign before breaking down in the arms of his son and wife.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged that learning she had a transgender son “wasn’t easy.” Rodrigo, who revealed his secret while a college student at Brown University, feared his parents would turn their backs on him. They didn’t.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it, it was rough for us,” the congresswoman told the Herald. “We understand people who are gay or lesbian, but when somebody says I identify as a man more than the gender which I was born, it’s still a shock.”
The Lehtinens are to be praised for sharing such an intimate part of their lives with their constituents and using their support to help others, regardless of the potential for lost votes or political clout.
That is the definition of true public service.