April 30, 2017 at 2:22 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to retire in 2018

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), center, speaks at a Capitol Hill press conference in July 2015. She told the Miami Herald on April 30, 2017, that she will retire from Congress in 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on Sunday announced she is retiring from Congress in 2018.

“It’s been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Florida Republican told the Miami Herald during an exclusive telephone interview. “We just said, ‘It’s time to take a new step.'”

Ros-Lehtinen was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989. She currently represents Florida’s 27th congressional district that encompasses portions of Miami-Dade County.

Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana in 1952, is the first Latina woman elected to Congress. She has emerged as a vocal advocate for LGBT rights in recent years.

Ros-Lehtinen in 2012 became the first Republican member of Congress to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. She is also among those who co-sponsored the Equality Act in 2016.

She and her husband last year appeared in a public service campaign with their son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, after he came out as transgender.

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Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen and his mother, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) attend the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 13th anniversary at Hamilton Live in D.C. on May 18, 2016. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ros-Lehtinen, who is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, in February criticized President Trump’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s guidance on how public schools should accommodate trans students. She and 49 other members of Congress earlier this month urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to publicly criticize the arrests of gay men in Chechnya.

Ros-Lehtinen vocal critic of normalized Cuba, U.S. relations

Ros-Lehtinen and her family fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Ros-Lehtinen is among Congress’ most vocal opponents of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and the Communist island. She is also sharply critical of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues in the country as the director of its National Center for Sexual Education.

“It’s very important for the U.S. community to understand what is the status of LGBT rights and the denial of rights in Cuba,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade in 2013 during an exclusive interview after she met with Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada, two independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates, at her D.C. office. “Mariela Castro, as part of the regime, has been on a propaganda tour internationally and here in the U.S. especially trying to sell this facade that is really non-existent in Cuba.”

Iriepa is a trans woman who worked for the National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, for seven years until she married Estrada, who founded the Cuban League Against AIDS. Iriepa and Estrada now live in South Florida.

Ryan: Ros-Lehtinen is ‘a force’

SAVE, the Miami-based LGBT advocacy group that produced the PSA in which Ros-Lehtinen and her husband appeared with their trans son, on Sunday applauded her.

“Thank you for your service,” it wrote on their Twitter page.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also praised Ros-Lehtinen.

“Ros-Lehtinen is a force,” said Ryan on Twitter.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo also applauded Ros-Lehtinen.

“It’s sad to see Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen retiring, but she leaves behind a legendary career with nothing to regret,” Angelo told the Blade on Sunday. “She has always led on matters of LGBT equality, never followed — giving her colleagues in both parties the political courage to join her in standing up for our community.”

“Her voice on matters of national security and LGBT human rights abroad was no less robust,” he added. “I speak for Log Cabin Republicans across the country when I say her presence will be both missed and remembered.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • Quit calling her pro-LGBT. When she had the chance to move ENDA forward via discharge petition, she chose party over country – and over her own family – and spouted off a bunch of Alex Jones-worthy nonsense about the Dems being the party of obstruction.
    Good riddance.

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