OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Public figures like Congressman Mike Honda, and actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, coming out in support of their transgender family members are sparking a conversation about what it means to be transgender.
"Every time there is a public acknowledgement," said Joel Baum, Senior Director of Gender Spectrum, "They're creating space for other people to follow."
Oakland-based Gender Spectrum helps schools re-frame gender issues, curriculum, and access to comply with California law and support students.
"In California, many people don't realize that gender is a protected class," Baum explained. "Right along with race, religion, and other forms of difference."
Alison Pennington knows that difference first hand. Her 5-year old daughter was born a boy, but exhibited signs of feeling like a girl by the age of two.
"And right before her 5th birthday is when she clearly came to us and said, 'Mama I'm not a boy. I'm a girl and I want to be called a girl," Pennington recalled.
"We had to take a leap of faith that day that we were making the right decision to raise her as a girl."
Pennington's daughter is the only openly transgender student at her North Oakland Charter School. "They need to be trained in what language to use and how to talk about it with kids," Pennington said.
She said the school and students have been very accepting, which is important. "When that young person's experience is affirmed rather than rejected," explained Baum, "We're seeing young people with far more confidence."
For Pennington the scariest part wasn't buying a dress for her child. "When I started learning more about what it means to be trans," she said. "You start reading the stats and they're horrifying!"
There are higher rates of bullying and suicide. "She's just so happy in who she is and so confident in who she is, and that's really what I want for my child.," said Pennington as she watched her daughter run around on the playground. "I have no doubts now. None whatsoever. It's who she is."