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PORTAGE — Dakota Yorke wants to live an authentic life.

Yorke, 18, blazed new ground in Northwest Indiana, becoming the first transgender student to run for prom queen at Portage High School.

She had enough votes from her classmates, and was one of four finalists for the tiara Saturday night at the prom held at Porter County Expo Center in Valparaiso.

Yorke placed second in the contest.

"I'm so happy," she said Sunday. "It was so beautiful. I had the time of my life. My feet are still hurting."

Senior Anisa Rayner was crowned prom queen.

"I was so happy for her," Yorke said.

"We were all holding each other's hands when they were announcing the names. I wish nothing but the best for everyone."

The teen said she has wanted to run for prom queen since she was a little girl.

"I can't pinpoint an age," she said.

"I used to watch Disney movies and there was always a princess, and I wanted to be that princess. It makes you feel strong, beautiful and independent."

Yorke has had support from her family and friends. Her mother, Dawn Yorke, her aunt, Victoria Dominiak, and grandmothers, Barb Francis and Pat Russo, were all on hand Saturday helping her get ready for the big event.

Dominiak said she was just as excited as Yorke when the teen decided to run for prom queen.

"I've got butterflies in my stomach," Dominiak said hours before the prom.

Despite all the support from family and friends, Yorke said she is well aware of the haters who don't like or understand her choices, but she said she doesn't pay attention to them. Some have posted negative remarks on her Facebook page about her run for the tiara.

"They need love, too," she said.

Most fellow students support Dakota

Most of the members of the Portage High School Student Advisory Committee, 14 students ranging from freshmen to seniors, said they supported Yorke's choice to run for prom queen -- and her choice to be who she is.

Transgender is officially defined as people who experience a mismatch between their gender identity or gender expression, and their assigned sex.

Yorke, who was born male but identifies as female, said all her life she felt like she was masking who she really is.

"I didn't trust anyone with that information," she said.

"At some point, I decided to be me. You only have one life to live. I want to be 100 percent who Dakota really is."

Portage senior Max Kurtz said he doesn't see why it's a news story.

"Just let the person do whatever it is they want to do. No one really cares," he said.

"The fact that this is news tells me it's a really slow news day."

Senior Kody McGuire said he doesn't think it's right (that Yorke can run for prom queen).

"It's going to happen no matter what I say," McGuire said.

"If he wants to be treated like everyone else, why is it such a big deal? Whey does he have to make a big deal about everything. He's just running for prom queen like anyone else. Why are the newspapers even getting into if if it's not a big deal?"

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Senior Amber Nelson said she's had one class with Yorke and doesn't know her well but she said high school students are sometimes in a bubble, cut off from the rest of the world.

"So when things like this happen in our little bubble, it's easy to be disruptive because it's different," she said.

"Whenever something is different, people talk about it. Just because it's a big deal to some, won't mean it's not a big deal to others. Everybody is going to have an opinion. Transgender always gets media coverage.

"People see this young woman running for prom queen and that's something positive for the transgender community. There are people who disagree with it, and you're entitled to your opinion. She has a lot of support. It's something that should be celebrated. This is a way of not just showcasing her but also the steps toward progress that we've made in society," Nelson said.

Portage Principal Jen Sass said there have been lots of calls and questions from the media.

"Regardless of anyone's opinion, we're a high school and we'll always have people who don't like each other but overall our students are very accepting of each other," she said.

Some inspired by Dakota's openness

Sophomore Nahjae Blackwell said she doesn't know Yorke personally but has seen her walking in the halls.

"I stand by her 100 percent," Blackwell said.

"I hope she doesn't let any of the negativity get to her. She is a very bright and beautiful girl. Her spirit is so beautiful. She is so joyful and happy. She always speaks to everyone in the hallway.

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"Honestly, she's like my role model right now. She motivates me to be even happier than I am now. Her demeanor is amazing. I agree with what she's doing, and I hope she sticks with her ideals and goes further in life."

Junior Vanessa Warner said she tries to put herself in other people's shoes and think about what they are going through, especially when they get bullied.

Freshman Aurora Larson said he, too, is transgender, and totally understands Yorke.

"It's just how we feel," he said.

"We are not trying to force it on you. If you don't want to hang out with us, we are not trying to force you. I have met people who have tried to accept me for who I am but just couldn't, because their parents raised them a certain way. That's fine. I've met people who accept me automatically.

"Say there is an apple and an orange. You really want that apple but all you can get is the orange, and each day it's like that over and over again. ... It's like being stuck in the wrong skin, and it's annoying. Honestly ... you don't want it," he said.

Freshman Antonio Guzman compared the issue to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump supporters and non-supporters.

"I am not a Trump supporter but I do agree with some of the things he says (but not the outlandish stuff)," Guzman said.

"Just because I don't agree with him doesn't mean he doesn't have the right to run for president. Just because we don't agree with what someone wants to do doesn't mean they don't have the right to do it or be who they want to be."

Dakota's mother and father, John Yorke, said they support Dakota.

Dawn Yorke said last summer before Dakota's senior year began, Dakota left and went to Wisconsin to stay with an older sister for a month or so.

"Dakota left a boy and came back a girl," Yorke said.

Dakota Yorke made her transition her senior year, becoming more fully herself each day. She takes joy in each of her classes, particularly her cosmetology classes at Don Roberts Beauty School in Valparaiso every afternoon, where she said she is fully accepted.

Instructor Chris Gulley said Yorke will earn a cosmetology license and will easily be able to secure a job.

"We're very proud of her," he said.

"She's doing very well in the course. She's been here two years, and she's made her transition since she's been here."

Yorke's friend, Alise Francis, a Portage High School junior, said she thinks it's good for Yorke to be able to express herself and love herself and not care what others think.

"It's encouraging me not to care when people have an opinion about me," Francis said.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.