After a Long Career in Politics, This Moment Solidified Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Journey
Credit: Nuestro Stories
There have been quite a few Latinas who have paved the political way over the last few decades, and one of those women is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She was the first Latina elected to the Florida House of Reps in 82, the Florida Senate in 86, and Congress in 1989.
Compared to her Republican constituents, Ros-Lehntinen has not only paved her way politically; she’s shattered some of the deeply embedded components of the Republican party’s belief systems in her active support for LGBTQ+ rights.
Her career started in Florida, but her life began in Cuba, where she was born. Her parents lived in Cuba until Ros-Lehtinen was about eight years old. Strong opponents to Castro, and his influence over Cuba’s way of life, her family fled to America and settled in Miami.
Her political career began in education, where she started as a teacher and worked her way up the proverbial ranks to becoming a principal. Seeing firsthand the problems within the public education system, she decided to transform her career in education into a career in politics, using education reform as a significant component of her platform. That platform allowed her to kick down the doors of the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate; her election made her the first Latina to hold office in both.
Read more: From Activist to Nobel Laureate, the Story of Rigoberta Menchú
One of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Breakthrough Moments
While all of these moments could be pointed to as a veritable breakthrough for women, Latinas, and first-time politicians all in one story – the actual breakthrough moment was when Ros-Lehtinen broke through generational curses in both the Republican party and the Latino community by publicly and constantly fighting for LGBTQ+ rights.
In 2012, she became the first Republican to support the Marriage Equality Act. She took her support a step further by publicly coming out in support of her son, who not only works as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community but is also transgender.
Though the Marriage Equality Act was a huge talking point and many in the Republican party were against it, Ros-Lehtinen took an unpopular stance. It was a breakthrough moment from a place traditionally known for its anti-LGBTQ+ view and was far ahead of its time. Looking back, however, it is safe to say that Ros-Lehtinen’s entire career was a breakthrough.
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Olivia Monahan Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.