Meet Miss Missouri: The First Openly Gay Woman Competing For Miss America

Last Saturday, pageant history was made when 23-year-old Erin O’Flaherty was crowned Miss Missouri, making her the first openly gay woman in the running for Miss America. While beauty pageants remain divisive in their very existence, with many claiming they’re another toxic artifact of a sexist culture that demands beauty of women before talent and intelligence are recognized, others claim they provide positive opportunities for women lending them platforms and scholarship opportunities.

Regardless of your stance on the concept of pageants in general, the fact that O’Flaherty is the first openly gay woman competing for Miss America serves as a huge marker of visibility, which could further bring LGBTQ experiences out of the shadows. The real questions at hand are — what is she like, what does she like to do, and what drew her into the competition?

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, O’Flaherty shared how difficult it was to come out and dispel the stereotypes she’d internalized: “Knowing I might be gay but also being very feminine was kind of confusing for me because I didn’t fit into the stereotypical category I had in my head for a woman in the LGBT community. It took many years of struggle to figure out who I was.” She decided to embrace the modes of “traditional” femininity she used to fight against as a way to provide a platform for LGBTQ issues and more specifically, The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to preventing suicide in LGBTQ youth.

O’Flaherty said her first introduction to the pageant world came during her freshman year at the University of Central Florida, when she observed and admired the character of Miss UCF and decided to run herself. Two years later, in 2013, she was crowned Miss UCF and realized she wanted to take these aspirations further.

When asked about the process of coming out as a lesbian in the pageant world, O’Flaherty said that luckily she’s received a lot of support from friends and family, and that being open with who she is has made her more confident and outspoken in competition.

I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go,” she told the Riverfront Times“It’s not going to be my focus, but I certainly hope my presence will help people open up a little bit more. I’m very open about it. It’s never going to be something I try to hide because I’m very proud to be a member of the LGBT community.”

Hopefully, her platform will successfully help shed some light on suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community at large.