PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “I’m a human being and I’m a girl. I was born a girl. I was just born with the wrong plumbing,” said Juliet Evancho, sister of well-known singing star Jackie Evancho.

Juliet Evancho is a student in the Pine-Richland School District, the same district where there’s a debate going on over which restrooms transgender students should use.

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“I’ve been this my whole life, and I’ve never been happier,” said Juliet Evancho. “And I’m really fortunate to have a loving family support system.”

Juliet sat down with part of her support system, her sister Jackie and her father, Mike, to tell her story of being transgender.

“The Evancho family is under the microscope enough as it is,” said sister Jackie. “And for her to come out is just really hard. But she’s so brave and I’m proud of her for that.”

The name on Juliet’s birth certificate is Jacob, but Juliet says: “I wasn’t Jacob. I never was Jacob.”

She says living as Jacob was a difficult and emotional road.

“I was not confident with myself at all,” said Juliet. “I mean I looked in the mirror and there were days when I cried because I didn’t see me at all.”

In fact, from a very young age, she says: “Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a girl. I played with Barbies with my sister, and my mother had never seen a bigger smile on my face until the day she put make-up on me.”

And when she was almost 13, she had an important conversation with her mom.

“I don’t know if I’m just gay because at the time I was Jacob, and I liked guys and everything,” Juliet said. “She was kind of like, maybe you’re transgender? She didn’t put anything into it. She kind of just said the word.”

What followed was a sleepless night of looking things up online.

“Word after word, it all clicked,” said Juliet. “I’m like okay, yeah, I’m a girl. I know I’m a girl.”

She shared her “aha moment” with her sister, Jackie.

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“It was no big deal to me because ever since we were tiny little kids, we were constantly doing things that two little girls would be doing together,” said Jackie.

It was telling her dad that worried her most, and Mike Evancho admits it was a difficult conversation for him, too. He questioned whether it was just a phase and said she’d grow out of it.

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“A lot of denying it,” said Mike.

Eventually, they got a therapist involved and learned this was not just a phase.

“It’s not a choice. You don’t wake up one day and say: “Oh, I’m transgender. I think I’m going to dress up as a girl and go to school,’ This is a long process,” said Mike Evancho.

Initially, she only dressed as a girl at home, but last fall, she took a big step: returning to school at Pine-Richland as Juliet.

“I was very nervous about going to back to school,” said Juliet.

She was ready to handle glares and mean words, but instead: “It was quiet. It was going to school and learning, and occasionally someone would come up to me and be like, ‘you are so brave,'” said Juliet.

Then, a few months ago, the bathroom issue came up. Transgender students at Pine Richland can use the bathroom of the gender they identify with rather than what’s on their birth certificate. But people at recent meetings are divided over whether that should continue.

“Can you guarantee my daughter’s safety if a high school boy decides to dress as the opposite sex?” asked one parent at one of the meetings.

Another asked, “Is it moral to gamble the privacy and security of our children to satisfy the behavior and emotions of a few?”

Juliet answers such concerns with this: “I’m not this monster who’s there to hurt their children. I’m there to learn and use the bathroom if need be.”

Her dad Mike added: “This nonsense that assaults can happen or anything like that. It’s just that, it’s nonsense.”

As for Juliet, she has one more year of high school, and says overall, her school community has been welcoming. She’s also very grateful for her family’s support.

He dad says: “I love her, very proud of her. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I could be that brave.”

Some people who are transgender decide to have gender reassignment surgery as part of their transition process, and Juliet says that’s in her future. She’s already started taking hormone treatments.

It’s estimated there are more than 700,000 transgender people in the United States. There are at least three transgender students at Pine-Richland.

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And for other transgender young people who may be struggling and feel alone, Juliet has a message: “I want those kids to know no matter what, there are going to be people out there who care for you. And just be you.”

David Highfield