By CBSNewYork Team

HIGHLAND PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A Rutgers student is a source of inspiration this Pride Month.

But her transition, like many others, did not come without some pain, and that’s where role models in the trans community can really help.

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As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reports, Donnatella McFadden-DiNicola is a beautiful 19-year-old student at Rutgers University studying linguistics and a wonderful big sister to Luca and Portia.

“She wants to be recognized as a pretty teen who enjoys life,” her mother Michell McFadden-DiNicola said. “She’s got nothing but good things to offer, and I just want people to see that.”

But her mom told Layton what you don’t see is the anxiety and depression Donnatella dealt with in her early teens.

“It was just at the cusp of when kids’ bodies start to change,” Michell McFadden-DiNicola said. “In therapy, I think, is when she kind of got the feeling there was a name for what she was feeling.”

During her time at Highland Park High School in New Jersey, she told her family she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. Not meant to be a young man, she was a woman.

“She’s a girl who was socialized as a boy,” Michell McFadden-DiNicola said. “She was just being herself, and the world was telling her, ‘No, that’s not right.'”

Michell McFadden-DiNicola’s own younger brother was transgender and had transitioned some years earlier, so receiving her daughter’s news with an open mind and an open heart wasn’t hard.

“Of course it comes with a lot of pain, knowing that this is not a person who is going to be treated nicely in the world,” she said.

Robyn Schlesinger lived with that pain for decades.

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“When I was 19 I was diagnosed with what was called ‘gender identity disorder,’ which back then… was grounds for being placed into a mental hospital,” Schlesinger said.

Suppressing feeling of who she really was for so long led her down a destructive path or substance abuse and an eating disorder.

Now in her 50s, and only having transitioned a few years ago, she’s found happiness at The Loft LGBTQ+ community center in Westchester, where she’s a role model for the younger trans community.

“I often get parents who will express their fears that their child is not going to fit into society,” Schlesinger said. “The love and support that they can give them through this process, which is not easy, is gonna make all the difference.”

“If you could go back to your 19-year-old self, what would you tell her?” Layton asked.

“To love yourself,” Schlesinger said.

That’s exactly what Michell is teaching her daughter.

“What would be your advice for the next family that goes through this and has that conversation with their child?” Layton asked.

“It’s not a tragedy,” McFadden-DiNicola siad. “Don’t be afraid to listen and learn.”

“But like you said, as parents, it’s a universal thing. We all want our kids to be happy. There’s nothing I could want for her more than to be happy being who she is and not allowing the outside world to change who she is,” she added.

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Jessica Layton contributed to this report. 

CBSNewYork Team