06/23/2015 10:02 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2016

The Teachers Who Gave Me a Voice

Living a happy life as a gay teen in Nixa, Missouri isn't the easiest thing to achieve. Most of my life was spent in the metaphorical closet where it was dark, scary, and smelled like moth balls. After a long time of searching, I finally found the light I needed to brighten up my life. Jeremy Charneco-Sullivan and Jackie Swindell have been that light for me, and they have helped me to achieve that happy life that every hard-working teenager deserves. They started a club that feels like home to me, have been phenomenal role models, and have shown me ways to work outside my community to change the world.

These small-town high school teachers started a club that is already doing astounding things. The most recent being our GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) having been presented the award for GSA of the Year at GLSEN's annual Respect Awards. This would have never come about without my small-town teachers with big hearts. Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Swindell had so much courage to start the GSA in this heteronormative, gender-stereotyped part of the country, but they did it. I, along with many other grateful students, think it's shown to be worth the effort. If you're thinking about starting a GSA at your school, follow Shia LaBeouf's advice and "JUST DO IT!"

I have learned how to hold my head high, how to love myself, and how to love other people, even when they may not support me. Mr. Sullivan helped me mature into the young lady I am today. Ms. Swindell not only taught me grammar, but also helped me to see the world for what it really is. Of all my role models, these two have been the most essential to the growth of my character. I can't imagine how my life would be without their support and unconditional passion for LGBTQ equality. If my community had more people like them, I wouldn't be afraid for the future.

Once I felt comfortable sharing my views within the club, I felt I could share my thoughts with the world. This is another thing I have to thank them for because without these stepping stones I would still be that timid, closeted girl in the back of the classroom, too scared to share her thoughts. I would not have the passion to change the world and the courage to stand up for myself if not for my wonderful teachers. And trust me, I have to stand up for myself often in my tough little town.

I have been set free with the help of my GSA. I found trust in a place where I didn't think I had allies. I can live my life the way I want to and I have the tools to do so. I'm so grateful for these two amazing people. I respect them not only as teachers, but as allies, leaders, and teammates in the battle against inequality. Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Swindell have helped me find the pull chain in my dark, scary closet and I've never been happier.