Emma deBeer Charno at Locust Valley High School where she...

Emma deBeer Charno at Locust Valley High School where she will be graduating this year. (June 3, 2011) Credit: Steven Sunshine

Emma deBeer Charno came face-to-face with a life-charting decision beginning in middle school. She was bullied because she is a lesbian, and the taunting continued when she entered high school.

Instead of letting those experiences defeat her -- as a student and as an individual -- she became a straight-A student and an advocate and champion of gay rights issues.

"I just didn't want to be here," deBeer Charno, 17, said of school. It [the bullying] made me hate going . . . At the same time, that made me only want to fight more for human rights."

To help slay the bullying beast, deBeer Charno headed Locust Valley High School's Gay Straight Alliance. Her goal: "To create a totally open and safe community and space within our school."

She also sought to stimulate discussions and educate people about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, while trying to break stereotypes.

She won the Gold Award, the highest achievement for a Girl Scout, for a documentary she directed for middle schoolers who are openly or secretly gay or questioning their sexuality.

Her plans: Will attend Oberlin College in Ohio and plans to major in creative writing, with a concentration in cognitive science and a minor in languages.

In her words: DeBeer Charno, a candidate for an International Baccalaureate diploma, said she was initially very passive about school. "I didn't feel invested in my classes," she said, adding that being a part of the program was "incredibly valuable." The International Baccalaureate program is a challenging course of study to prepare for college.

The view from the guidance office: "Emma is a brilliant and creative thinker who is very concerned about human rights and stands up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves," said her guidance counselor, Faith Keenan. "I'm very proud of her."

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