Destiny Hartis had made up her mind.
She would be elected Digital Harbor High School's prom queen at the school's senior prom on May 15, she remembers thinking that night -- even if it meant spending part of the dance gathering votes from her fellow classmates.
"It was my day," said Hartis, 20, who attended the end-of-year event with her cousin, Kerstin Jones, in a long blue dress. "I was going to win."
And she did -- becoming the Baltimore high school's first transgender student in faculty memory to walk away with the prom queen's crown and sash.
Some of the boys laughed that night, but lots of people cheered. Hartis, who plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College next year and wants to become a nurse, said she had a great time.
"People are going to have their opinions," she said, "but I know who I am. I'm not here for you. I'm here for myself."
On a recent afternoon, Hartis sat at home with her mother, Danielle Mahoney, and her grandmother, Debra Mahoney, who said they've always known Hartis -- born Brandon -- was special.
Getting through high school wasn't always easy, though she never felt particularly bullied for her identity, Hartis said. She began expressing herself more in 8th grade, began presenting "more girlish" in 9th grade and began hormone therapy in 10th grade, she said.
She helped start a diversity club early on at Digital Harbor and was on the cheerleading squad, she said, but started having trouble with school work in 11th grade and briefly dropped out. But with the support of her family, she enrolled again, she said.
"They always back me up with everything," Hartis said of her mother and grandmother.
"Whatever makes her happy makes us happy," her mother said.
"Nobody can condemn her for who she is. They love her the same," her grandmother said. "All I want to do is see her succeed."
Toni Bruce, a secretary at Digital Harbor and Hartis' former cheerleading coach, said Hartis has "always been out of the box and ready to take on challenges," and is "naturally a leader."
Bruce said she is proud of all Hartis has accomplished in the last four years.
"She's always one to handle herself with pride and dignity, no matter what's going on around her," Bruce said. "I've been with this student since the 9th grade and now to see all that she's accomplished, it's inspiration even to me."
After Hartis won her crown and sash, and before she got back home to Brooklyn, she called her mom. "I have a surprise," she said over the phone.
When she got home, Danielle Mahoney was up waiting. "The look on her face was too funny," Hartis said.
"She had a souvenir alright," Mahoney said, of the crown. "She wore it the whole next day."
"Yes I did," said a smiling Hartis, who will graduate with her classmates this weekend.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun