On the ninety-sixth time that the Miss America beauty pageant will be held, history will be made and a milestone set. One of the contestants up for the running is changing the pageant with her very presence, and shall have a chance at a shot to advocate her wishes to America.
When she was crowned Miss Missouri last June 23, thus making her the state’s representative to become Miss America 2017, Erin O’Flaherty caused a great stir throughout the media with the fact that she is the first Miss Missouri to be openly lesbian, and therefore the first ever lesbian candidate for Miss America. This could not be emphasized more than a few days later, at a July 1 annual gay pride parade in St. Louis where she was guest of honor enthroned on a parade float.
Needless to say, O’Flaherty sees great significance in her victory at the state level and participation in the national pageant this coming September. As she tells CNN, her experience on the road to Miss America, “Has been an atmosphere that is nothing short of inclusive. The Miss America organization has done a great job of wrapping their arms around me. Everyone who I've come into contact with has been nothing but supportive."
She especially loved the lack of problems between her and fellow contestants and how bonding together has already made them lifelong friends.
According to an interview for Cosmopolitan, former South Carolinian Erin broke into the beauty pageant scene during college while still keeping her sexuality under wraps, not at all helped by her confusion over her knowing herself to be gay despite being a “feminine” girl. In her own words she claims, "It took many years of struggle to figure out who I was."
Quite surprisingly, Miss Missouri’s platform on her Miss America campaign is not the subject of sexuality itself, but one of its negative consequences or rather, the awareness of it. To be precise, O’Flaherty will focus on spreading her interest towards suicide prevention both within her community and out of it. This advocacy is spurred by her memories of losing a loved one to suicide during the age of 13, and hopes that sharing her story would inspire others to overcome the informal taboo of discussing suicide and thus get their problems out.
Erin O’Flaherty came out as a lesbian when she was 18 years old, and presently she owns and runs a clothing shop in St. Louis. While she was not the first lesbian woman to try to win the crown of Miss America, she is the first to actually win competition at the state level. On the world level, Miss Spain 2008 and 2013 as well as runner-up for Miss Universe 2013 Patricia Yurena Rodríguez only came out as gay after the facts, in 2014.
The Miss America 2017 beauty pageant will be held at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Sunday September 11, to be broadcast by ABC.
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