When you're a gay teen in a midwestern village of a little more than 4,000, things can be tough. But in a post "It Gets Better" world, the experience for gay teens is getting better. So much better that in Dexter, one teen was able to beat the odds and walk away with a homecoming crown; all it took was surviving a suicide attempt and a truckload of courage.
According to every teen movie since the beginning of cinema, girls will do anything for a shiny crown or tiara. All Dexter High School senior Alicia Klocek had do was be herself.
It was a difficult task but it paid off. By popular vote, she gained homecoming court candidacy and eventually won as an out and proud lesbian. With the victory, she made history and threw major shade at those campaign crazy movie "queens."
"It was definitely really exciting," Klocek said. "No other openly homosexual person has ever been on court in Dexter. It's good to see change."
Although she was safely apathetic to the possibility of winning, she now regards her win quite fondly.
"I would have been happy, even if I didn't win it, but it was a definitely a very special moment in my life," she said.
For Klocek, that appreciation is driven by the outpouring of support she received from her fellow students. This was a self-affirming experience for Klocek who'd experienced bullying after coming out and subsequently attempted to end her own life.
I like "just knowing there's support," she said. "A few years ago, I felt like I had no one to turn to. I felt like I was completely alone, no one accepted me and I tried to end my life."
"Just to come all this way and to know that there are people that support me and love me for who I am... it's spectacular..."
As the proud mother of a gay teen, the win meant a lot to Alicia's mom, Lori, as well.
"It was a good feeling to see my daughter accepted for who she is," she said. "I was happy for her. Not every child that struggles with their sexual identity gets the affirmation of,'hey, you're a great person.'"
"As a mom, it's great to see her experience that."
Although many people felt it was deserved, the win still came as a surprise. Klocek admits, she hardly believed it when her name was called as homecoming queen.
"I didn't believe that it was my name, I thought it was a mistake," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, gosh. No, that's wrong.'"
Once the initial shock wore off excitement and a whole bushel of happiness set in. Though, it was somewhat bittersweet; she wished she was able to share that joy with her friends Sarah Keen and Susie Pilkerton, who were also running for homecoming court.
"I was very happy that I had won," Klocek said. "But at the same time... I wish that my two friends that were on court could've won it with me me to share that feeling."
Although Keen and Pilkerton were who she thought of initially, Klocek also hopes her win will help other queer kids.
"I want this to be an example that you can be out, that you can be who you want to be and you'll be accepted," she said.
"I feel like a lot of kids in Dexter feel like they have to hide who they are."
A few weeks out from homecoming, things have gone mostly back to normal. But every now and then she still hears shouts of "America" in the hallways, in reference to a promotional motto Keen used in support of Klocek.
Like all other high school seniors, Klocek is "absolutely" ready to graduate. After graduation, she hopes to attend Stony Brook University in New York to study pre-nursing. For now though, she's not done trying to break boundaries in her 1.9 square mile village.
Klocek's next mission is to start a gay/straight alliance through her high school. She hopes that with the example provided by her homecoming victory and a working GSA, she'll be able to affect real, long-lasting change in Dexter.
"I just want people who may be struggling with their sexuality in Dexter to know that it's okay and it's going to be okay," she said, her voice strained as if holding back tears. "As cliche as it sounds, it does get better."