Photo from personal archive showing former Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her son Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen posing outside the White House, in Washington DC. EFE/Personal archive/Courtesy of Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen/Editorial Use ONLY/AVAILABLE ONLY TO ILLUSTRATE THE ACCOMPANYING STORY (CREDIT OBLIGATORY)

Ex-Republican congresswoman, transgender son champion LGBT+ rights

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Washington, Aug 28 (EFE).- When he was a 21-year-old college student, Rodrigo would tell his mother that he was a man.

Coming out as transgender is hard enough, but even harder when you are a kid of a US Republican Congresswoman.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who served as a representative for Florida for nearly 40 years, was in “shock” when she received the news.

But then she looked at Rodrigo and said: “Whether you are my daughter or my son, you are my family and nothing can change that.”

Today, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen is 31, his mother 71, and they both fight for trans people from different fronts.

He does so from his activism as director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and his mother continues to lobby within the Republican lines for the LGBT community despite leaving Congress in 2019 during the Donald Trump administration.

“She devotes a lot of energy to inspire other families and other politicians to recognize that transgender people are people, no more and no less,” Rodrigo told EFE.

But Ileana is swimming against the tide of her party.

Having succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to strike down the constitutional right to abortion last year, US conservatives have now turned their attention to LGTBs, especially transgender people.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said 494 bills deemed “anti-LGBT” were introduced in state legislatures this year.

The latest to do so was North Carolina, where on Aug.17, the Republican-majority state assembly ratified a law banning gender transition treatments for minors.

Although medical and scientific communities support these treatments, conservative groups and politicians like Donald Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 presidential Republican nomination, consider them “child abuse.”

“It’s really having a very dangerous impact on young people. Imagine being a young person trying to figure out who you are, and society is sending you a message that being transgender is something to be ashamed of,” Rodrigo said.

The American Medical Association has said that these are medically necessary treatments for the mental health of trans youth, who suffer from high rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

When Rodrigo came out, his mother was already supportive of equal marriage, but she had a lot of questions.

“It is normal to have questions about medical treatments, but it is important to remember that these treatments have been studied for decades,” said Rodrigo.

In addition to initiatives to limit access to treatment, many seek to ban trans-women from participating in female sports, unisex bathrooms, and drag shows.

The push has even reached the Pentagon, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a budget amendment prohibiting the government from funding gender reassignment treatment for service members.

But Rodrigo remains optimistic.

He said the debate on these issues was because trans people have more visibility than ever before.

“For many years we transgender people were in the closet, but now many are coming out and can live authentically,” he said, standing in front of two buildings for the future of LGTB rights: the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

Rodrigo lives with his partner a few blocks away, in a home his mother bought when she was a Congresswoman and where she still stays overnight when she has to travel from Miami to the capital.

Rodrigo wishes everyone had an experience like his.

Despite being a Republican, his mother, the first Cuban-American elected to Congress, publicly confronted Trump over his anti-trans stance.

“It’s an example that family love is stronger than any government or political issue. Family is family. Period.” EFE