It might surprise you to learn (actually, it probably won’t) that in almost a century there’s never been an openly gay Miss American candidate.
On Saturday night, 23-year-old Erin O’Flaherty, changed all that when she was crowned Miss Missouri, the first out and proud lesbian to claim the title.
“It is pretty unheard of to be a gay woman in the Miss America system,” she told Cosmopolitan in a recent interview, adding that, despite being a rarity, she’s never felt discriminated against.
“I’ve never experienced homophobia, at least to my face. Most contestants are very accepting of me, and [mostly] it doesn’t even come up.”
O’Flaherty, who came out at 18, says she often struggled to reconcile her femininity and sexuality as a teenager.
“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 is hoping her to be a role model for other young LGBTI women, but it won’t be the entire focus of her reign — her main platform is suicide prevention.
“One of my best friends committed suicide when I was 13. As I navigated the grieving process, I became educated on the warning signs of suicide. It became my mission to spread this message — suicide is the second leading cause of death in individuals between the ages of 14 and 25, and the 11th leading cause of death, overall. And LGBT youth are actually eight times more likely to try to commit suicide compared to their straight peers.”
O’Flaherty currently works with The Trevor Project, an organisation which offers a 24-hour confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.
Despite living in a conservative state, she says people have accepted her with open arms.