Role Models In Trans Community Offer Inspiration For Younger People

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; CBS2's Jessica Layton reports.

Video Transcript

- 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 is where role models can really help. CBS 2's Jessica Layton reports.

- She wants to be recognized as, like, a pretty teen who enjoys life.

JESSICA LAYTON: Donnatella McFadden-DiNicola is a 19-year-old student at Rutgers University studying linguistics. A wonderful big sister to Luka and Portia.

MICHELL MCFADDEN-DINICOLA: She's got nothing but good things to offer, and I just want people to see that.

JESSICA LAYTON: But her mom says what you don't see in these photos is the anxiety and depression Donnatella dealt with in her early teens.

MICHELL MCFADDEN-DINICOLA: It was just at the cusp of when kids' bodies start to change. In therapy, I think, is when she kind of got the feeling that, um, you know, there was a name for what she was feeling.

JESSICA LAYTON: And 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.

MICHELL MCFADDEN-DINICOLA: She's a girl who was socialized as a boy. She was just being herself, and the world was telling her, no, that's not right.

JESSICA LAYTON: Michelle 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.

MICHELL MCFADDEN-DINICOLA: Of course, it comes with a lot of pain knowing that this is not a person who's going to be treated nicely in the world.

JESSICA LAYTON: Robin Schlesinger lived with that pain for decades.

ROBIN SCHLESINGER: When I was 19, I was diagnosed with what was called gender identity disorder, which, uh, back then was grounds for being placed into a mental hospital.

JESSICA LAYTON: Suppressing feelings of who she really was for so long led her down a destructive path of substance abuse and an eating disorder. If you could go back to your 19-year-old self, what would you tell her?

ROBIN SCHLESINGER: To love yourself.

JESSICA LAYTON: Now in her 50s and only having transitioned a few years ago, she's found happiness and her true self at The LOFT LGBTQ+ Community Center in Westchester, where she's a role model for the younger trans community.

ROBIN SCHLESINGER: I often get parents who will express their fears that, you know, their child is not going to fit into society. The love and support that they can give them through this process, which is not easy, is going to make all the difference.

JESSICA LAYTON: It already has for this family. What would be your advice for the next family that goes through this and has that conversation with their child?

MICHELL MCFADDEN-DINICOLA: It's not, uh, a tragedy. 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.

JESSICA LAYTON: Jessica Layton, CBS 2 News.

- And stay with CBS 2 for continuing coverage all month long. You can see all of our Pride stories at cbsnewyork.com.