- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only member of Congress with a transgender child, had a few words of advice for other parents sharing the same experience.

“Don’t freak out, stay calm and don’t be afraid,” the Florida representative told CBS News in a candid interview alongside her husband, Dexter Lehtinen, and her son, Rodrigo.

“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,” she said.

Rodrigo, 28, was born Amanda. She came out as gay in high school and decided to become a transgender man once she hit college.

“It was surreal,” he said. “But the reaction was generally positive. People really came out of the woodwork, people I hadn’t talked to in years proactively approached me, emailed me, came out to me, thank you for sharing. It was even more positive than I would have dreamed of.”

Rodrigo’s mother — the first Cuban-American elected to Congress in 1989 — is the most senior Republican woman in the House, USA Today reported. Rodrigo said the reaction to his coming out was positive even among his mother’s conservative friends.

“The Republican Party is generally thought of as not being supportive of LGBT rights,” Rodrigo told CBS. “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.’”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen in 1994 voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Today, she is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal DOMA and the only Republican in the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, USA Today reported.

“We know Rigo as our child, whether it’s Amanda or now as Rodrigo, he’s our son, we’re proud of him,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said, CBS reported.

She told CBS that most people don’t mention Rodrigo to her, suspecting it might be because some people think she’s embarrassed for having a transgender son.

“I’m not,” she said. “He’s a very happy soul. … He’s very much at peace with himself.”

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