Politician on Transgender Son: 'We're Proud of Him'


Photo by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen/Facebook

When Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen talks about LGBT issues, she knows of what she speaks: Her son, Rodrigo, is transgender — and she’s his biggest fan.


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s son Rodrigo. Photo: CBS 4 News

The Republican Rep. — and only member of Congress with a transgender child — took to TV on Nov. 17, during Transgender Awareness Week, in a public show of support for her 28-year-old, born Amanda. She urged other parents of transgender kids to have as much pride in their sons and daughters as she has in the eldest of her four children and stepchildren. “We know Rigo as our child, whether it’s Amanda or now as Rodgrigo, he’s our son and we’re proud of him,” the politician declared in an interview with CBS 4 News Miami. “We’re very happy that our son is happy with who he is. And that’s a blessing to us.”

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Ros-Lehtinen is the first House Republican to support gay marriage and the only Republican on the 112-member Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. And she’s supported her son throughout his journey, which began when he came out to his parents as a lesbian in high school and then as transgender during college in 2007. “As parents, we wanted Rodrigo to understand that we’re totally fine with it,” the congresswoman explained. “He’s our son, we’re proud of him.”

Now the mom is asking other parents to stand behind their transgender kids, too. “Don’t freak out,” she advised. “Stay calm and don’t be afraid. And love your child because that person is your child whether it’s the person you wanted him or her to be or not. That’s my advice to parents. Never, never reject your child. That’s unconditional love, no matter what.”

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That message is a powerful one to transgender kids and their parents alike, advocates tell Yahoo Parenting. “I hope that any parent looking at her will see a real role model,” says Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). “To take this step of talking publicly about her son is tremendously important, because she’s a Republican, and this is not an easy issue to advocate within her caucus. It’s still a leading edge issue and it’s huge for people to recognize that when the wellbeing of children is at stake, we can all come together, no matter our political party or beliefs. This is about creating a world of opportunity for all of our children.”

With 74 percent of LGBT students reporting through GLSEN that they were harassed or threatened in the past year because of their sexual orientation, and 55 percent because of their gender expression, parental support is more important than ever, she notes. But Ros-Lehtinen isn’t the first to stand up for her child.

The parents of 6-year-old Ryland Whittington posted a video tribute to their transgender son on YouTube in June, receiving 4.8 million views in just a few days. And last year, Coy Mathis’ mom and dad scored a win for their transgender daughter, 7, when they got the court to rule that the Colorado Springs school district discriminated against her by preventing her from using the girls’ bathroom.

“It’s so important for all parents of trans people that other parents step up and support their children,” adds National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling. “All of our allies must go through a process to learn and understand who we are.” 

The Congresswoman’s championing of transgender children’s rights was bolstered in April by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which decided that transgender students are protected under Title IX; it allows such kids to file a complaint with the ORC if they experience discrimination at school based on their gender identity. Ros-Lehtinen’s outspokenness makes it easier for the parents of those kids, too.

“So many parents want to pray it away, punish their children, or encourage them to be different,” Trans Youth Equality Foundation director Susan Maasch tells Yahoo Parenting about the difficulties of kids coming out. She notes that without parental support, children often start having trouble at school and develop depression and anxiety. “So the more people who speak out the way Ros-Lehtinen has, the more comfort to other parents struggling with this journey and feeling really alone. They can see they’re not the only ones.”