by Herb Sosa
Rodrigo Lehtinen is a Cuban-American, transgender
LGBT rights advocate. Lehtinen is the elder child of
lawyer Dexter Lehtinen and congresswoman Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen, and is the first openly transgender
child of a member of Congress.
At Brown University Lehtinen was a member of Queer
Alliance. While attending Brown University, he
produced the documentary Free Within These Walls,
about Cuban prisoners of conscience. Lehtinen was
a field organizer for the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force. Later, he worked as the Membership
Director at Gender Justice LA, a grassroots
organization that works to build the power of the
transgender community in Los Angeles through
community organizing and leadership development.
He also worked in fundraising at Liberty Hill
Foundation and organized a transgender leadership
development conference with the Transgender Law
Center. He is now a professional fundraiser at
GLAAD, an LGBT media advocacy organization.
35 states and counting now have Marriage Equality,
including your home state of Florida. What are your
thoughts on this journey so far, and what's next?
It's incredible progress. Growing up in Miami, I never
dreamed we would have marriage equality this soon. It's
particularly emotional for me because I actually just got
engaged to my boyfriend. I'm thrilled – and relieved – that
now I can move back to Miami and our relationship will still
be recognized. It makes me that much more proud to call
Miami my hometown.
Your mom and dad are political & legal icons on many fronts. How has being raised in this environment influenced you? How do you
keep the line between family & politics?
Growing up in that environment taught me to fight for justice. My parents, as well as my grandparents, were always passionate about
politics and human rights. I grew up discussing current events and debating policy issues around the dinner table. In most families,
politics would be considered controversial. In ours, it's our daily life. It's thanks to them that I'm an advocate.
Keeping the line between family and politics is about respecting each other's intentions, despite our political disagreements. It's no
secret that I'm not a Republican like my parents, but that doesn't mean we can't honor that every one of us is seeking to build a better,
more just society. We just disagree on the particular policies for achieving that goal.
Your personal transition and advocacy work has been very public. Do you feel this helped you personally, or made it more
It's been a whirlwind. I had a lot of fear about coming out publicly, but I could never have guessed how much support I was going to get.
There's a stereotype that Latinos aren't as accepting of LGBT people, and that contributed to my nervousness. But thankfully none of my
fears came true. For example, when I came out to my abuelo, who was 86 at the time, he said, "When you get to be my age, you don't
care about any of that stuff. All that's important is that your grandkids are healthy and happy. The rest is irrelevant."
I'm so grateful, because many of us don't have such a positive experience. So many trans people, whether in the public eye or not, are
met with rejection. According to Injustice at Every Turn, which is a study about discrimination against trans people, 57% of our
community experience family rejection. This is unacceptable, and speaks to how just critical it is that we keep pushing to end
Who do you look up to, and why?
I admire Laverne Cox. Most people know her from Orange is the New Black, but she's also a huge trans advocate. She's used her fame
to create visibility and fight for respectful representation of our community in the media. She's an inspiration.
What is your go-to comfort food?
Picadillo, arroz and frijoles. A Cuban classic.
My mom’s best quality is…PASSION.
My dad’s best quality is…DETERMINATION.
MY best quality is…A POSITIVE ATTITUDE.
Tell me about your work with GLAAD.
GLAAD moves culture and increases acceptance for LGBT people by harnessing the power of the media. We work to bridge the culture
gap, which is when there are laws on the books that protect your rights, but you still don't feel equal in your everyday life. You might think
twice before holding your partner's hand in public, or worry about which bathroom you should use at work. GLAAD works to change that
by working with media to get LGBT stories out there that are respectful and affirming, which builds public support and understanding.
We know from research that when people watch an LGBT character on TV, they're more likely to respect the LGBT people in their
personal life, so it's an incredibly effective way to foster not just legal equality, but true acceptance.
Much attention has been given to the trans community as of late, especially by the LGB community. Why do you think this is – now –
and why did it take so long? Is this the “last frontier” for LGBT equality?
I think the attention that we're getting recently is the culmination of advocacy that's been going on behind the scenes for years. Trans
people have always been part of the LGBT movement, and now we finally have this moment when we have an explosion in media
attention. It's a very exciting time to be involved. It feels like the movement for transgender acceptance is really coming together.
Also, the internet has opened doors for the trans community, allowing us to make our own media. Now we're filming YouTube videos,
financing our own projects on Kickstarter and connecting with each other on social media. The trans community has used the internet
as a tool to break isolation.
It's encouraging, but we still have a long way to go. Transgender
people continue to face so many obstacles. For example, one
study found that here in Los Angeles, where I live, almost 60%
of trans Latinas stopped by police said they were stopped while
doing everyday things like "coming back from the grocery store"
and "waiting for the bus", which speaks to the heightened level
of harassment and stereotyping that many trans people endure.
I'm heartened to see the trans community getting more attention,
because we have our work cut out for us, and we need non-
transgender people to stand with us.
What is the most misunderstood thing about being trans?
One of the biggest misconceptions of the trans community is
that we are victims. A common narrative in the media - and by
extension, in public perception - is of a tragedy. Trans folks are
thought of as murder victims and kids kicked out by our parents.
It's important to recognize that our community does indeed face
staggering rates of violence and rejection. But we are also
resilient. We are also triumphant. To profile only the tragedies
makes us look like helpless victims. It's not just one-
dimensional, it's inaccurate. Where the transgender community
has been harassed, we've also stood up for ourselves,
organizing marches, forming organizations, and building a
social movement to protect for our rights. We're not victims.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I hope to have contributed in some small way to transgender advocacy. There are many incredible trans leaders, so I don't want to be so
presumptuous as to think I'll have a legacy per se. But I think the movement for trans acceptance is at a pivotal and exciting moment, so
if I can play any role in moving culture change forward, I'll be very grateful.
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