Rep. Ros-Lehtinen Talks About Her Son: 'He Was Born Amanda Michelle. Now He's Rodrigo.'

Susan Jones | May 19, 2016 | 5:51am EDT
Font Size
A screen shot from the new ad featuring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, her husband, and her transgender child Rodrigo.

( - The transgender controversy hits home for one Republican member of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is now appearing in a new public service announcement for SAVE, a South Florida group that aims to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

The ads, featuring the congresswoman, her husband Dexter, and 30-year-old child send the message in both English and Spanish that "Family is about acceptance and love."

On Wednesday, Ros-Lehtinen told MSNBC's Jose Diaz-Balart how she reacted when her child, then 21, came to her with the news that she was not female.

"Well, I don't want to sugar-coat it," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Actually, we were quite shocked, but of course, this is a message that we take with a -- with faith is about love and acceptance, and Dexter and I understood that family is everything.

"And -- and so we did not hesitate to accept Rigo. We loved him when he was born. He was born Amanda Michelle. Now he's Rodrigo. But it's the same child with the same hopes and aspirations and dreams as any other child.

"And -- and I hope that that message that we did with SAVE transcends all of that divisive rhetoric."

Ros-Lehtinen said she wants Rigo, now 30 and bearded, to be safe and fulfill his dreams.

Interviewed along with his mother, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen said he was "very scared" to tell his parents that he was transgender. He reportedly did so in a note left on their bed.

"I've been very fortunate that my family is very loving and were always clear with me that that love was unconditional," Heng-Lehtinen said. "And yet our society is so hostile toward transgender people that I nevertheless was still terrified to tell them.

"I had even packed a bag and was ready to live outside the home in case I wasn't welcome back. I've been very fortunate that my parents were unequivocal. They said we might have questions, we might not understand yet, but that doesn't mean you're not our child. Family is family no matter what.

"Unfortunately, that's uncommon," Rodrigo continued. "Almost 60 percent of transgender people are kicked out of their homes and rejected by their families, which is heartbreaking. So that's why we filmed this message with SAVE, so that more people like myself can be met with acceptance, met with love, and that no one is kicked out of their home."

"We might still kick him out," the congresswoman added, "but that's for other reasons. He's still not -- he's still not cleaning up his room. He might be 30, but he's still a slob."

(Heng-Lehtinen, who married a man last year, recently moved back to Miami from Los Angeles.)

The New York Times, which reported on Ros-Lehtinen's transgender advocacy on Sunday, noted that Heng-Lehtinen began transitioning in college -- at Brown University:

"Although he had come out as bisexual as Amanda in high school, he said he knew so little about transgender people that he did not see it in himself until he got to Brown. He trod slowly, first by wearing men’s clothing and asking friends to call him Rodrigo," the newspaper reported.

"'I didn’t know how comfortable a person could feel until I had tried on men’s clothes,'" Heng-Lehtinen was quoted as saying.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen says she supports the Obama administration's recent guidance to schools that says students must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

mrc merch