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South Florida congresswomen travel different paths to become House leaders on gay issues

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Two very different South Florida congresswomen -- one a conservative Roman Catholic Republican born in Havana, the other a liberal Jewish Democrat originally from New York -- will be honored Sunday in Miami for their passionate stands in support of gay rights.

U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, each will receive a Voice for Equality Award from Equality Florida, the state's leading gay-rights organization.

"Equality is a core value for both of these women," said Nadine Smith, Equality Florida's executive director. "They have people close to them who have opened their eyes to these issues. These women understand what discrimination is like. There's a great deal of sexism at the root of homophobia. They know what it's like not adhering to gender stereotypes."

Both politicians arrived in the same place by traveling different paths.

ros-lehtinenRos-Lehtinen served in the Florida House from 1982-86, followed by a term in the state Senate. After Claude Pepper's death in 1989, she succeeded him in the U.S. House -- the first Cuban American and first Hispanic woman in Congress.

In 1984, Ileana Ros wed fellow Florida House member Dexter Lehtinen, who later served as a U.S. attorney for South Florida.

Ros-Lehtinen, 57, has said she didn't teach their children, Amanda and Patricia, about gay rights -- she learned from them.

"They think of it as a Neanderthal way of thinking not to accept someone because of their sexual orientation," Ros-Lehtinen told The Miami Herald in 2003. "My kids just say, `So and so is gay.' It's like, `He likes chocolate ice cream.' It's a total mind shift among generations. . . . As new generations raise up, a lot of taboos will be laid to rest."

Back then, older daughter Amanda, 17, said "it's no big deal'' that some of her high-school friends are gay.

"At some point you realize some people like people of the same sex," said Amanda, then a junior at Palmer Trinity School in Southwest Dade.

By 2003, Ros-Lehtinen had already co-sponsored or supported a federal hate-crimes bill, a bill that protects gays from federal employment discrimination and laws that increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention. She's a vice-chair (and only Republican member) of the Congressional LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] Equality Caucus.

Ros-Lehtinen, who May 21 will also receive a SAVE Dade Champions of Equality award, is a lead GOP House sponsor for repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell'' law.

"She has really inspired others within the Republican Party to understand that equality has to be a core value," Smith said. "She's helped to bring us to the moment [last October] when Republicans and Democrats voted for the hate crimes bill. Her support hasn't been simply quiet and behind the scenes. She's made it safer for pro-equality Republicans to speak up."

When Ros-Lehtinen took up the cause a decade ago, she didn't know that daughter Amanda would later go away to Brown University in Providence, R.I., and come out as a transgender man.

IMGP2284 Now living openly as Rodrigo Lehtinen, the former Amanda has become an outspoken activist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. Last year, he went to work as a field organizer in Los Angeles for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, one of the nation's largest gay-rights groups.

Rodrigo Lehtinen appeared in an online video last year speaking out against the eventual repeal of Maine's gay-marriage law:

"I love working on this campaign, because it's just really, at the end of the day, it's about empowering people and teaching everyone the skills they need to advocate for their own rights, in whatever way it comes up and in any battle they have in their own lives."

Rodrigo’s parents say they fully support him.

“Our love is unconditional,’’ the Lehtinens told The Herald. “Our children have the right to live any way they wish. All of our children will always be integral members of our family.”

wasserman-schultz Wasserman Schultz, 43, served eight years in the Florida House, four in the state Senate and became a congresswoman in 2005.

"She's with us, an absolute champion when it comes to equality, first as a legislator in Florida," Smith said. "She's brought that fighting spirit to Washington, D.C. She was with us on hate crimes, ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act], marriage equality. She's a founding member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus."

One of the U.S. House's most liberal members, Wasserman Schultz and husband Steve Schultz have 10-year-old twins, son Jake and daughter Rebecca, and a 6-year-old daughter, Shelby.

"I've raised my children from the earliest stages in their lives to understand what being gay meant," Wasserman Schultz said. "Being gay is as normal as being straight is. This is how I have raised my children and I'm very proud of them. They understand that when it comes to family, there are different definitions of what family is and what normal is."

Recently, Jake said to his mother that he didn't understand why it is illegal for gay people to adopt in Florida. "Why does anybody care about this?" the boy said.

"I was really proud," Wasserman Schultz said. "It was something my generation had to learn and adjust to. A lot of people had to learn and make adjustments to gay rights. I am determined to be a mom who raises her children never to make an adjustment."

And what if her children turn out to be gay or transgender? "Then they're gay or transgender," she said. "I love my children with all of my heart. I live the values I instill."

IF YOU GO

  • What: Equality Florida Voice for Equality Awards
  • Where: River Lounge at Epic Hotel, 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami
  • When: 5-7 p.m. Sunday
  • Cost: $125
  • For more information, see www.eqfl.org/miamigala, e-mail david@eqfl.org or call Stratton Pollitzer at 954-682-6094

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What a beautiful message. Great and loving parents who are role models for us all.

I agree with this post 100% the parent are base a strong foundation of us.

THE BIBLE:In this "sacred" book of family scandals we find filth, sex xorgiesx, cannibalism, atrocities, sex perversions, incest, bloody violence unparalleled in any other chronicle in all the literature of the world. Fortunately, not one-third of the human family has ever heard of the Christian Bible; not one-tenth of the Christians have ever read it, and no two who have read it agree as to its meaning. Won't you help get this book out of the hands of our children, out of decent homes, and out of hotel and motel rooms?The human race has suffered for centuries and is still suffering from the mental disorder known as religion, and atheism is the only physician that will be able to effect a permanent cure


As one who basically does not give a s... if gays have rights, from a strictly academic point of view, I suppose they have the same so called " rights" as any one else. However, it seems the rights any one has in this country are quite limited. In this context, I am wondering exactly what rights gays want? Please respond! Hi Eric.

Hi Eric,

There are a number of rights that we don't have like protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. If someone is fired or refused the right to rent a property because of the color of their skin, they are protected. In the state of florida, anyone can be fired just because they are thought to be gay.

Another right is the ability to adopt. Florida is the only state in the country that actually bans gays from adopting children - even if they have been taking care of the child for years as a foster parent or as a the child of their partner.

Another right - all the rights straight couples have when it comes to marriage, i.e. hospital visitation rights if their partner is dying or sick in the hospital, the hundreds of tax benefits of marriage, etc.

I know it is difficult to wrap your head around the fact that there are still a number of rights we have to fight for, because most straight people don't have any point of reference.

I hope this helps Eric.

Cheers,

Thomas

Cane68, rights are binary: you either have them, or you do not, and if you deny someone one right, then you might as well deny them all.

Thank you both for your comments. It seems you are confusing rights with the protection of the law. There is no right to to rent, a job, to adopt,etc. See if you can find these rights in the constitution.
I think what you should be saying is we do not have laws favoring our position.

cane68, yes you should be saying the laws that benefit my position are not applied equally to all americans and that is unamerican

Congratulations on winning the Sodom and Gomorrah awards, ladies. You earned it. Ileana Ros raised her children with an "anything goes" sexual ethic and now her daughter is calling herself a man. Actions obviously have consequences. But to accept an award for it requires a special brand of anti-Christian hubris.

Does anyone know Ms. Ros-Lehtinen position on gay marriage?

I think that raising your children with this attitude that these alternative lifestyles are OK is wrong. It is not normal. This is not equivalent to accepting others based on religion or race--this is condoning sexual deviancy. If same sex marriage was 'natural' then procreation would be between same-sex individuals--and IT IS NOT.
THis does not mean you would not love your gay child--but you should treat it as if he had any other physical or psychological condition. Being GAY is being unhappy with who you are and wanting to be something you are not--it has severe psychological implications--and regardless of how they sugar-coat it, they are miserable, unhappy, poorly adjusted individuals.
I am tired of them pushing their agenda on the rest of us.
I raised 4 heterosexual children and throughout their lives I stressed that being Gay is not normal or natural, but that nevertheless they deserved the same kindness, love, and compassion as someone who was schizophrenic, autistic, or had any other mental condition.
If what I just stated is not politically correct...then so be it. Last time I checked, we still had freedom of speech!!

diana lora, it's not about being political correct, it's about being ignorant, raising a gay child is not about what you teach them, it's the luck of the draw, gay people's only disadvantage is the attitude of those around them, including yourself, fortunately you are a disappearing breed

THis does not mean you would not love your gay child--but you should treat it as if he had any other physical or psychological condition. Being GAY is being unhappy with who you are and wanting to be something you are not--it has severe psychological implications--and regardless of how they sugar-coat it, they are miserable, unhappy, poorly adjusted individuals.

The human race has suffered for centuries and is still suffering from the mental disorder known as religion, and atheism is the only physician that will be able to effect a permanent cure.

Christians have ever read it, and no two who have read it agree as to its meaning. Won't you help get this book out of the hands of our children, out of decent homes, and out of hotel and motel rooms?The human race has suffered for centuries and is still suffering from the mental disorder known as religion, and atheism is the only physician that will be able to effect a permanent cure.

Absolutely wonderful article. Great role models.

I am happy to know that Gay has given equal rights and Government still taking essential steps for their security and financial power. No doubt, I liked the concept of your article. Good Going ! Keep it up !

Happy to know that Government is trying equal rights to everyone. I shifted with my family in Ireland with the help of moving company. There is lot of gays in number in this country and Government is taking care of every right of them.

Any human race must be treated equal. In whatever aspect there is.

I also agree with you. I also happy to know that gay will also have the equal rights.

They have people close to them who have opened their eyes to these issues. These women understand what discrimination is like.

Gay rights are equal rights and it's great to see elected officials that support this issue. Wasserman Schultz has always showed support for the Gay Community, which is something that can't be said for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. If it wasn't for Ros-Lehtinen's daughter coming out as a lesbian, she would be like most republicans, fighting and defeating every legislative bill that supports equality.
In short, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a hypocrite!!

Definition of HYPOCRITE::
: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

World Changer: "Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a blemish to any people. Ancient Proverbs 14:34
The principles of honor (ie. high respectful conduct) is the foundation and building block of every other social unit, relationship and community. This whole dilemma of being gay is not a political issue, it is choosing to walk contrary to fruitfulness for homosexuality is a sterile, barren, & unfruitful union. This in turn causes the rebellion to increase and expand now, after deciding an unfruitful union, to bring up a desire for offspring, adoption, and family. The concepts of procreating and raising a family are totally contrary to walking as a homosexual. Starting a family is a place of personal and self sacrifice. You surrender the will to serve others. TO start a family without surrendering the will is a secret formula for vast devastation and destruction which is contrary to blessing and instruction. May the wise listen and increase his learning.

Diana Lora: what is your scientific proof that firstly being gay is a condition, secondly that it is comparable to autism?

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