She has learned to look beyond the hate mail and focus on the growing community she has helped build. Besides, the benefits of having a happy son who feels comfortable in his skin far outweigh negativity from strangers and Internet trolls.

"There's something empowering about owning it and saying this is who I am, this is who my kid is, and I'm not going to hide him. I'm going to celebrate him."

Pride becomes family friendly

NYC Pride March is open to anyone, regardless of age, said David Studinski, NYC Pride March director. Youth participants have been a part of the march since the inaugural 1970 event, and organizers have long welcomed transgender youth and adults.

"Gender nonconforming and transgender individuals face challenges within our own community, say nothing of the vast array of perceptions they experience outside of it. Compound that with the trials and tribulations of childhood and adolescence, and it's quite obvious why these amazing young people deserve to see 2 million people supporting them along Fifth Avenue," Studinski said.

"What the world will see in return are smiling young faces, lit up by the ecstatic energy of rainbow-flag-waving spectators. If they're OK with who they are, the world should be, too."

Families, including infants and young children, have been a growing presence at Pride events across the country as they become more family-friendly. This year marked NYC Pride's second "Family Movie Night" as part of the weeklong lineup, and Boy Scouts in uniform led the color guard at Pride March under the Scouts for Equality banner.

With legislative support for same-sex marriage spreading, NYC Pride March organizers decided to invite transgender actor Laverne Cox to be grand marshal to draw attention to parts of the LGBT community "where progress in greater society is still needed," Studinski said.

"Understanding what it means to be a transgender individual is one of those areas."

'Acceptance is protection'

Parents who make use of of the Gender and Family Project's services started talking about participating in NYC Pride March earlier this year.

Involving children was a natural extension of the program's goals to de-stigmatize gender nonconformity, program director Malpas said. Feedback from families over time has shown that "acceptance is protection," and that people feel safe when they feel society accepts them.

"The highest degree of acceptance is celebration, not that I just tolerate or accept you, but that I celebrate and embrace you," Malpas said.

"There is value in saying it publicly. It's saying to your child I will go out and I will publicly show the world that I really celebrate you and I really love who you are and I'm not ashamed," he said.

Some families preferred to watch the parade from the sidelines rather than march in it, Malpas said. Others, like Enrique Perez and his wife, discussed it with their daughter, but it was clear from the start which way she would lean.

After all, this is a girl who told a boy in her first week at a new school in a new country that she was "born a boy but always felt like a girl," her father recalled.

"We were surprised that she was the one spreading the word," he said. "But, as I see it, that's who she is and I'm glad to think she fully accepts what she's going through."

People tend to underestimate children's ability to understand and talk about their gender identity, Olson said. Young children can tell if they're different, but fewer challenge the pressure to conform to society's gender standards.

Parental support helps them find the words -- and courage -- to express how they feel.

"If your child says something to you then you know that they're capable of having discussions about public displays of their pride," she said.