The Miss America pageant has finally opened its arms to its first openly lesbian contestant. Erin O’Flaherty has been crowned the 2016 Miss Missouri, becoming the first openly lesbian competitor to head to the Miss America competition.
While one could argue that a pageant of Eurocentric, cis-heterosexist beauty norms opening its doors to the LGBTQIA community is not actual progress, we’re going to happily take this win for now.
“It’s certainly making history and I’m not sure I set out to do that, but I am the first openly gay Miss Missouri and contestant to head to Miss America so I am excited about that. But, mainly, I’m excited to represent the LGBT community,” O’Flaherty, 23, said on Good Morning America. “We’re underrepresented in public in positions of influence. So I’m excited to take that on and I hope that my presence will help with visibility for the community.”
O’Flaherty chose the platform of suicide prevention; suicide plagues the queer community. She has chosen to work closely with The Trevor Project, which reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24. Even more sadly, queer youth are a whopping four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Nearly half of trans youth have seriously thought about taking their own life, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. Each episode of homo- or transphobic abuse, be it physical or emotional bullying, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times, on average.
“My focus of this year, I hope, will not be solely on my sexuality,” O’Flaherty said. “I’m excited to represent the Miss America organization and I think what my message really is, is that I had dreams and goals and I was very scared at first to become who I am. But once I stepped into who I was is when I became most successful.”