Transgender high school senior Dakota Yorke is one vote away from making history at her Indiana high school.
The 18-year-old was elected one of four finalists for prom queen at Portage High School, reports The Chicago Tribune, which covers the town (near Indiana's border with Illinois) in its "Suburbs" section. Portage High will crown its prom queen on Saturday, and the Dakota tells Tribune columnist Jerry Davich she couldn't be more excited.
For Dakota, entering the contest was about more than winning, it was about being seen and loved for who she is, she told the paper.
"For other transgender teens, this is about following your dreams and being who you are, not who people think you are," she said.
Her candidacy comes at a time when transgender rights -- especially those of students -- have been called into question across the country. In North Carolina, a controversial new law makes it illegal for transgender people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity when those facilities are in government buildings or public spaces. A so-called religious freedom bill recently passed in Mississippi effectively bars the state from recognizing transgender people's authentic gender, and a spate of transphobic "bathroom bills" continue to advance in as many as 20 states, though some of these policies have been voted down or repealed.
Like many parents, Dakota's mother, Dawn Yorke, is supportive of her daughter.
"To us, Dakota is just Dakota," Dawn told the paper. "I never cared how she identified regarding her gender, as long as she was a good person who was kind and respectful to others."
But "middle school was rough," for the young woman who had not yet come out as transgender, her mother told the paper, fighting back tears.
In a video posted to YouTube, the Portage High School student said she had dreamed of being a prom queen since she was little. When she saw that she was a finalist, she got emotional. "I saw my name on the bulletin board and I cried," she told the paper, remembering her excitement.
Only last year, the teen attended prom wearing a tuxedo and she hated it, according to the paper. "I felt embarrassed," she said, reportedly wrinkling her nose at the painful recollection.
But today, Dakota is bold, as her YouTube videos demonstrate. "Fear gets you nowhere. I've learned that honey," she says in the video announcing her decision to run for prom queen. She instructs viewers to "Follow me on the path to laughter happiness and positivity and don't let anybody, anybody, anybody, get you down!"
Meet Dakota Yorke in the Tribune video below.