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Reasons Why Miss Missouri Is So Much More Than the First Openly Gay Contestant

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

This year all tuned into our televisions for the 96th year of “The Miss America Pageant“–which means the event is older than most of our great grandparents.

The race for the crown started in 1921. Since then, there have been many firsts on the stage. There was the first Native-American Miss America, the first red-headed Miss America, the first Jewish Miss America, the first Latina Miss America, the first African-American Miss America, the first foreign-born Miss America, the first deaf Miss America, the first Miss America who had an insulin pump, the first Asian Miss America–and the list goes on.

This year, we celebrate yet another first. Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, is the first Miss America contestant who openly identifies as a lesbian.

Interviews addressing Erin’s sexual orientation can be found everywhere. From websites, like Forbes and Cosmopolitan, all the way to big time television shows like ABC News and USA Today. Miss Missouri shared with the press that she knew by being the first publicly gay contestant, she had the chance to make history.

Regardless of making history, judges deciding on Miss America never have an easy decision to make because when choosing, judges have to keep many different factors in mind. Basically, Miss America has to be a woman who represents women from all around the nation; she has to have it all.

Luckily, Miss Missouri does.

1. Her Platform

Miss Missouri’s platform focuses on suicide prevention. O’Flaherty talks about her best friend committing suicide when they were 13 years old. After that, she educated herself on the warning signs of someone having suicidal ideations in hopes to help. Erin is now known for her work with Trevor Project, a resource for LGBT youth that allows them to contact a hotline when they are feeling like they want to harm themselves. She’s also active in the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

2. Source of Support

The Miss America contestant mentions in several interviews that she hopes to be a source of support for many. O’Flaherty wants to show people that regardless of their situation, they have the ability to overcome and rise above anything. Miss Missouri wants to spread the message that individuals are more powerful than the circumstances they face. She also shared her hopes to be a role model for young girls all over the nation.

3. Never Be Ashamed

During her interview with Amanda Coyne from Cosmopolitan, Erin was asked about how open she was about her sexuality during pageant competitions. O’Flaherty shared that she never felt that she needed to hide it. She was not publicly out during her first year of competing; however, once she opened up about it, she began doing much better in her pageants. Erin says her honesty allowed her to do well in the competition because she was able to present the judges with her true self.

4. Bloom Where You’re Planted

Erin’s motto to success is this: “bloom where you are planted.” She shares the motto in hopes that people will understand that success is not determined by where you’re from, the house you have or the car you drive. Miss Missouri firmly believes that hard work towards your goals will ultimately end in being successful. After all, she’s a prime example.

5. Brains and Beauty

Miss Missouri attended the University of Central Florida. During her time at UCF, Erin began competing in pageants because of the former Miss University of Central Florida. In 2013, Erin was crowned for the first time. She continued to compete in pageants after that. However, that wasn’t all she was doing. Erin earned a degree in accounting at UCF, showing that she truly is the perfect mixture of brains and beauty.

6. Starbucks Lover

What does Erin O’Flaherty’s car contain? Many, many Starbucks cups. As pictured on the Miss Missouri Instagram page, Starbucks cups can be found in abundance inside of the beauty queen’s car. Like any other 23-year-old, Erin can not live without her caffeine fix. I mean, let’s face it, being Miss Missouri can’t be easily done without a PSL!

7. A Big Sister

Erin also shared with the world that one of her most prized possessions in life is her little sister. Shockingly, there’s an 11 year difference between the two–but that doesn’t stop their inseparable bond. Like many big sisters, Erin is motivated every day to be her best self so that her baby sister has a good role model to look up to.

8. A Dog Lover

While traveling and gaining knowledge on what it means to be a Miss America contestant, Erin got to visit The White House. Her favorite part? Getting to play with the Obama’s puppies. While visiting the first family, Miss Missouri was reminded of home. Growing up on a farm had an impact on Erin that caused her to love all animals. I mean, after all, whose favorite family member isn’t their dog?

9. Not Just The First Openly Gay Contestant

Finally, my favorite thing about the Miss America contestant. Although she is forever known for being the first openly gay contestant, Erin doesn’t want to be remembered for that reason alone. Even though she didn’t make it to the Top 15, Miss Missouri does not want to be remembered only because of her sexuality. Erin wants to remembered for the hard work, dedication and service that she puts in during the next year.

Unfortunately, Miss Missouri didn’t win–but she’s still winning in our hearts!

Follow her on Instagram! 

Born and raised a Carolina girl. Social Work major. 21. Mom to a fur baby.
Winthrop University is a small, liberal arts college in Rock Hill, SC.