When Cookie Irizarry saw a story in a local newspaper about her 17-year-old transgender daughter, Jae, being named homecoming queen at Trenton Central High School, her worst fear was realized.

The article didn't celebrate the achievement. Instead, it quoted anonymous sources claiming the ballot box had been stuffed, and the teacher responsible for overseeing the vote had left it unsecured. The school flatly denies the allegations and has expressed support for its new queen.

Cookie Irizarry said she and Jae were never contacted for the article. They hadn't heard anything about any alleged ballot-stuffing and don't believe it to be true, she said. It felt like the sort of backlash worried about in the back of her mind even as she strongly supported her daughter's achievement.

"She just wanted to show people that no matter who you are or what you are, you can accomplish anything in life," Cookie Irizarry said. "We didn’t even think that there was going to be any ordeal. We were very surprised."

But despite that, Cookie Irizarry said, she and Jae are overjoyed. The student body's embraced Jae, her mother said. The school administration has had her back.

Jae Irizarry didn't plan to run for homecoming queen, her mother said. Just a few days before voting opened, fellow students and staffers encouraged her to enter.

"She said, 'I’m going to try. If I lose, I lose,'" Cookie Irizarry said.

Cookie Irizarry knew her daughter would get some support. But she really didn't see a win coming, she said. She didn't know the school was ready to elect a transgender homecoming queen.

But when Cookie Irizarry accompanied her daughter to the school's homecoming game Saturday night, "it was amazing how people came up and said they were screaming in the halls," she said. "When they announced her at homecoming halftime on Saturday, she got the loudest cheers. All the kids got cheers, but hers were the loudest."

Jae first came out as transgender about a year ago — but first told her mother she wanted to be a girl when she was 12.

"I was scared for her," Cookie Irizarry recalled. "She said, 'Mom, this is my senior year. I’m coming out. I’m coming out all the way. People can accept me for who I am. Or they can just let it be.'

Most people, Cookie Irizarry said, have done the former.

"These kids set an example for us, in the older generation," she said. "No matter who we are, we should be treated with respect. And the support from the school was just amazing. They encourage her to be herself, and they're totally behind her."

Cookie Irizarry's seen some negative responses to her daughter's election as homecoming queen, she said. She's run into posts online asking why Jae didn't run for homecoming king.

"Would they have made a big deal because she'd become king looking like a she? Because she addresses herself as a she, not a he? Because the males didn't win and she won," Cookie Irizarry said.

Cookie Irizarry said her daughter hasn't generally thrust herself into the limelight to advocate for transgender issues — she just goes about her life as a female. But she saw homecoming as an opportunity to bring people together, her mother said.

"People kept encouraging her to run," Cookir Irizarry said. "I was like, 'babe, run.' You can do this."