Say what you will about beauty pageants, but it’s hard not to be excited about the latest major step in inclusion: This weekend, the first openly gay contestant will compete in Miss America.
Last June, Erin O’Flaherty, 23, was crowned Miss Missouri, becoming the first openly gay woman to win a state pageant and move on to Miss America.
O’Flaherty entered the pageant scene during her freshman year at the University of Central Florida. She told Cosmo that while she had always been out to her family and friends, she competed for one year before she publicly came out. She explained:
I knew that once I was open about it, I would actually do much better in pageants because I would know I was presenting who I really was. As I’ve become more and more open with who I am, and more comfortable with myself, that’s really translated into my performance.
O’Flaherty is also a strong advocate for suicide prevention, supporting the Trevor Project which is dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBT youth.
The Miss America organization is fully supportive of this major milestone. COO Josh Randle stated:
Through every major milestone of our nation’s evolution, Miss America has provided a voice for women from all walks of life.
Though not everybody is all smiles about this. O’Flaherty has been open about some of the hate and negativity she’s received since getting national attention, which have ranged from “vicious and hateful to supportive and joyous.” Luckily, she hasn’t let this stop her from speaking out. Before being interviewed on CNN, she posted this powerful post to her Instagram explaining why she won’t shy away from being a leader in the LGBTQ community:
Just before my interview on CNN, I paused to capture this moment. Since my crowning, I’ve received national attention with reactions to my presence that have ranged from vicious and hateful to supportive and joyous. At times, I’ve wanted nothing more than to protect myself and hide from the attention. But what change would that inspire? I want to put myself on the line. I’ll take every bit of hate if it means that another little girl who is coming into her own doesn’t have to. I’ll have the tough conversations until I’m blue in the face – all if it means opening minds and beginning the conversation of equality. Leadership is not always just showing up or pitching in. Sometimes it’s being on the front lines of a movement you’re scared to death of fighting. #missamerica #missmissouri #leadership
The Miss America pageant will be held this Sunday night, September 11, in Atlantic City. This historic milestone, combined with the fact that Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas will be on of the judges, this is shaping up to be a beauty pageant worth watching.