Story highlights

New ad comes as debate over transgender rights heats up

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's son is transgender

CNN  — 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t often break ranks with her conservative colleagues.

But new ads from the fiery Florida congresswoman fly in the face of arguments some fellow Republicans have been making as a debate over transgender rights heats up.

The ad campaign, released Monday by Florida-based gay rights organization SAVE, features Ros-Lehtinen, her husband and their transgender son. And it opens with a message that organizers of the new campaign say is key: “Family is everything.”

“Our son is transgender,” Ros-Lehtinen says. “We loved him as Amanda and now as Rodrigo.”

Sitting with her family at a kitchen table, the congresswoman describes what it was like to find out her child was transgender.

“At first, we had lots of questions,” she says, “but as parents, we love and accept our children.”

Organizers say they hope to reach Latino families with the ad, which was filmed in English and Spanish and comes as the debate over transgender rights is gaining growing national attention.

Last week the U.S. Justice Department and North Carolina filed lawsuits over the state’s controversial bathroom law, which bans people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. And on Friday, the Obama administration issued guidance directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t mention the lawsuits or recent legislation in the ad, but she says transgender people shouldn’t face discrimination.

“Every transgender person should be protected from discrimination and have the opportunity to earn a living and take responsibility for their lives on the same terms as everyone else,” Ros-Lehtinen says as the ad comes to a close.

Ros-Lehtinen has been outspoken about her support for her son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, and is one of the most outspoken advocates for the LGBT community on Capitol Hill.

At an event unveiling the new ad Monday, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen shared details about the process of coming out to his family.

“Just as we transgender people go through a journey, our families go through a journey, too – of learning what acceptance means,” he said. Heng-Lehtinen first revealed his gender identity to his parents through a letter.

“I wrote a letter, left it on their bed and left the house fearing the worst,” he said. “I was ready to stay out if I had to, which is something that was terrifying for me. (But) I was lucky. When I told my family, they said, ‘We love you.’”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also noted that the questions she and her husband had weren’t the only thing on their minds when Rodrigo came out.

“Above those questions, we had one concern: his safety,” she said. “It’s a tough world out there for everyone, but it’s even more evident now as we hear about bills that only seek to divide and discriminate against LGBT youth. It creates a hostile environment, and that’s why as family members, we must stay united, we must be that safety net for our children, and support them in any way that we can, so that they can go on to live authentic lives. That’s what family’s all about.”

CNN’s Boris Sanchez, Tristan Smith and Deena Zaru contributed to this report.