Erin O’Flaherty, 23, made Missouri pageant history over the weekend.
O’Flaherty, who owns a women’s clothing boutique in the St. Louis area, became the first openly gay woman to be crowned Miss Missouri.
She will represent Missouri at the Miss America pageant on Sept. 11 in Atlantic City, where she says she will break ground there, too, as the national pageant’s first openly gay contestant.
The Miss America organization has not commented on whether O’Flaherty, if she wins, would be the first openly gay woman to hold the national title.
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O’Flaherty sent out her first official tweet as the state titleholder on Wednesday.
“I’m on cloud nine, really, just to be Miss Missouri,” she told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t know that I intended to be the first, but I am. So I’m very excited about it.”
O’Flaherty knew that her participation would break new ground for the state pageant. She came out as gay when she was 18 and did not keep it a secret as she competed for the crown.
She wondered whether being gay would hurt her chances, she told the Riverfront Times in St. Louis.
“I had my concerns about it. Progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri,” said O’Flaherty, a native of South Carolina who moved to Missouri three years ago after graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in accounting.
She was crowned Miss UCF shortly after she came out.
“My coming out was very public, which was hard because you want it to be very private,” she told the Riverfront Times.
“The public access to that was very challenging because I wanted to protect my relationship and who I am and come to terms with myself before the rest of the world got a chance to.”
Being gay won’t be her focus at Miss America or during her one-year reign as Miss Missouri, she told the AP.
“It’s certainly a big part of who I am, and I will be promoting it and raising awareness for the LGBT community. But also there will be many appearances that I do that have nothing to do with that,” she said.
“And so I’m hoping that I can strike a really nice balance of staying true to the values of Miss Missouri and also being able to exercise my personal views.”
But the media might have something different in mind. She’s already made headlines around the country and world thanks to ABC, ET! and international media.
She chose suicide prevention as her pageant platform because when she was 13 a close friend committed suicide. Over the years she’s come to see how suicide affects the LGBT community.
The Daily Mail points out that in 2012 Mollie Thomas tried to become the first openly gay Miss California. And in 2013 Analouisa Valencia competed in the Miss South Carolina pageant as an openly gay woman. Neither woman won.
“I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go, you know,” O’Flaherty told the Riverfront Times.
“But I certainly hope my presence will help people open up a little bit more. I’m very open about it. It’s never going to be something I try to hide because I’m very proud to be a member of the LGBT community.”