Erin O’Flaherty is 2016's Miss Missouri, and she’s on her way to Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant on Sunday. And she’s gay! Hurray!
The Miss America pageant needs all the press it can get about diversity and opening up space for different concepts of womanhood, but O’Flaherty seems a bit conflicted about being caught up in the media attention. She is for sure Out and Proud, and actively supports and volunteers with the Trevor Project, which works on suicide prevention amongst LGBTQ youth. She also doesn’t want to be reduced to her sexual orientation. The New York Times interviewed O’Flaherty about her being the first open lesbian at the pageant, and she wants to let everyone know she has plenty of other things going on:
“I want to get the conversation away from my sexuality, and I hope that by the end of the year that will be the conversation we are having,” she said. “I think other people tend to focus on it, but it is one small part of who I am and the work that I do. It is just as important for people to realize I am not one dimensional.”
She certainly isn’t, but most of the coverage about her has been focused on the one thing. Here are a few more facts about Miss Missouri.
That last one is certainly not surprising. O’Flaherty says she has been immersed in pageant culture for a long time, even paying her college tuition with the winnings. When asked about the persistence of the bathing suit competition, she said, “I think we do that now because that is rooted in our tradition. And Americans love their traditions” and “We love being able to be confident and go out in a bikini... And it is for less than 10 seconds.”
O’Flaherty’s poise and confidence is certainly inspirational, especially to other young gay women who are looking for more role models in mainstream media. She told USA Today that despite the attention, in many ways coming out has been easy for her because of the support of her family and friends.
“My family was absolutely nothing but supportive, and I knew that when I decided to come out and when I was ready, it would be that way. So my coming out was actually much easier than millions of people,” she said.
“In a way, I wish it would’ve been harder, because some people have it so bad, and I never really had a terrible coming-out. It was very easy for me because of the people I was surrounded by.”
Though the Miss America pageant isn’t for everyone, for the right little girl out there Miss Missouri might make all the difference.