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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Alabama chapter.

Every reason to not publicly come out the closet became the reasons I ended up doing so. I was scared for my career, my reputation and my success in pageants. I was scared of the stereotypes that bisexual women face. I was scared the world would never look at me the same. But one day this fall, while I was deeply entrenched in this inner debate with myself, I had a sense of pure clarity: the fear that I felt was the same fear that so many young people have felt for decades. I had to come out for them and for all the LGBTQ+ kids of the future, in hopes that one day they won’t have to feel that fear. I wanted to debunk stereotypes and be a part of the change. I wanted to prove to everyone that someone’s sexuality shouldn’t have to change their career path, it shouldn’t change the way people see them, and it shouldn’t change what activities they can participate in, which for me was pageantry. 

Despite being thought to have evolved from suffragist parades in the 1910s, with sashes reading “Votes for Women,” pageants get scrutinized relentlessly for objectifying and demeaning women, painted as a misogynist’s dream. But to me, pageants have been a way to use my voice to speak out on causes I’m passionate about. They have shown me some of the strongest and most influential women I’ve ever met, and they’ve taught me to work towards having that drive. They even pushed me to address my own internalized misogyny.

And who’s to say that these pageants can’t be diverse, queer-inclusive ways to empower and give voices to young women?

Miss USA recently had its first openly LGBTQ+ contestant, Rachel Slawson. Miss Universe welcomed its first transgender contestant in 2018, Angela Ponce of Spain. Just a year later, Miss Universe also had its first openly gay contestant, Miss Myanmar Swe Zin Htet, who said, “I feel like if I am open about my sexuality, others will open up too.” 

Miss USA repealed their ban on transgender contestants back in 2012  with the first transgender contestant in the state of California, Kylan Arianna Wenzel, in 2013. My home state of Montana had the second transgender contestant after Kylan, Anita Green, in 2017. This means that I will be only the second openly LGBTQ+ contestant in Miss Montana USA. This fact was intimidating, but compelling in my case to come out. Maybe my voice will give someone else the courage to be themself the way Anita has inspired me. In an interview, Anita said “I hope that transgender women competing in pageants ultimately shows people that we are women and that we really should be respected as people.”

We are using our voices to show that we are people and women just the same. 

For such a long time, sexuality has been something that queer people hide in fear of discrimination. My sexuality was something that I felt people could shame me for, even though I know that it doesn’t change who I am. So, I decided to be open with the world to show that I am not ashamed. You can question me, doubt me, and try to guilt me, but I am proud of who I am. 

This progress may seem like it is small because there are few of us and it is so recent, but it means something big.

It means that we are ready to fight for our place at the table, and we are no longer going to be silenced simply because of who we love. 
Rachel is studying political science, marketing, and public policy at the University of Alabama, pursuing a career in civil rights law and politics. When she's not busy with school and writing, she advocates for survivors of interpersonal violence through work at the Women and Gender Resource Center and her nonprofit, End The Silence. In her free time, she runs, spends time outdoors, and watches bad tv.
Alabama Contributor