Laurin Mayeno says she still remembers the moment more than 20 years ago when her son, Danny Moreno, who was 3-years-old at the time, looked up at her with wide eyes and asked to be a princess for Halloween.
In a time well before Caitlyn Jenner had her own TV show and a mega-chains like Target had dropped "gender-specific" labels for kids' products after online protests, Mayeno recalled she was filled with anxiety about the safety and well-being of her only son.
“It was hard for me to just say yes because of all the hangs up I had and all the fears that I had,” Mayeno of Berkeley, California, told ABC News. “I didn’t embrace the idea wholeheartedly.”
Mayeno recalled she tried to steer her son in the direction of other ideas, like a Peter Pan costume, but that didn’t work because “he knew what he wanted.”
Ultimately, Mayeno let Moreno, now a 26-year-old openly gay man living in New York City, dress up as a princess and the experience, she says, changed her as a parent for the better.
“It was really, when it came right down to it, that my fears about, ‘What are people going to think, and am I a good mother,' were less important than allowing my child to be who he was,” she said. “You’ve got this little kid looking up at you with these big eyes and really clear on what he wants and I cannot tell you that there’s something wrong with what you want because that’s saying there’s something wrong with you.”
The experience was so transformative for Mayeno that she is writing a book, due in 2016, on the memory and penned an essay on it this week for the Huffington Post. She has also made acceptance of the LBGTQ community her life’s work, founding Out Proud Families and co-founding Somos Familia, two organizations that support youth of "diverse gender identities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations" and their families.
Though that Halloween in 1992 changed his mom, Moreno, who works in education and sings in the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, says he does not even remember the holiday.
“I guess it just wasn’t that big of a deal to me. It was just another fun Halloween,” Moreno told ABC News. “I think I just remember feeling and being able to identify what unconditional love is from a really early point and being really secure that my mom and my entire family loved me because of who I am and not in spite of it.”
Mayeno says that although she chose to support her son - and find him the perfect purple gown and tiara to wear that year - she still had “a lot of concerns and fears” for how her son would be treated when he walked into his pre-school class on Halloween.
“I spoke to the pre-school director, who was super supportive, and she said, ‘I’ll watch out for him,’” Mayeno said. “But she also said, ‘He’s not the only boy who acts this way and it’s perfectly normal for children to express themselves like that.’”
Despite her concerns, Mayeno said her son’s costume was perfectly accepted and, thus, a valuable lesson was learned.
“I think the bigger point is all children need to be loved and accepted for who they are without conditions,” Mayeno said. “Children are on their own journeys and we need to just embrace and love our children for who they are.
“Children have a range of gender identities and also sexual orientations and parents can’t control them,” she said. “By trying to force them back into a box it’s not going to make their life better, it’s going to make their life harder.”
Mayeno says even though the conversation on gender stereotypes has changed since 1992, she still hears from parents today facing the same battle of raising a son or daughter who pushes gender boundaries with the same trepidation but complete love that she had for her son.
"I think that sometimes people think that a child’s gender expression is directly related to their sexual orientation and its’ really not the same thing," said Mayeno, who is especially passionate about building support in communities of color because her son comes from a mixed-race family. (Moreno's father, and Mayeno's first husband, died in his native El Salvador while Mayeno was pregnant.)
"There are children who like to dress up in different ways and it means absolutely nothing about how they identify, and sometimes it does mean something about how they identify," she said, adding that parents should, of course, take the safety of their children seriously and have conversations with them, and adults who may care for them, about it.
Moreno said he is proud of the way his mom raised him, and hopes their story helps others.
"I think it’s important to know that, at least I believe, gender barriers hold people back from being their truest selves and dissolving gender barriers isn’t easy but it has to start with family, from parents and people who are close to the person," he said.
"It’s really important to affirm love to your kid, to affirm that you’re there and you’re supportive and you’re excited about their happiness and them finding that."