Erin O’Flaherty, crowned Miss Missouri and competing for the Miss America crown this weekend, is the first openly lesbian contestant to vie for the title.

MISS MISSOURI FIRST OPENLY LESBIAN MISS AMERICA CONTESTANT

The 23-year-old Missourian has become a role model for other LGBTQ youth. In an interview Thursday, O’Flaherty acknowledged this fact, but also lamented that sexuality is still a talking point.

“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.”

O’Flaherty is still an outspoken hero for the LGBTQ community, and has chosen the issue of suicide amongst LGBTQ youth as her social platform in the competition.

Miss Missouri has received support and criticism for her role in the pageant. Many are pleased to see an openly lesbian woman competing and proving that gays can have a place in the pageant world. The haters come in the form of comments from homophobes.

“She is changing the conversation and proving to people that you can be who you are,” said deputy executive director of the Trevor Project Steve Mendelsohn. “The pageant is really about the beauty of individuals. And individuals come in all identities.”

Since the 1920s, beauty pageants have been criticized for exploiting women by judging their appearances, and for idealizing near-impossible beauty standards. Some changes have been made to the pageant system to combat the criticisms that they are sexist platforms, such as adding current event questions and renaming the swimsuit segment as fitness segments.

“Her participation does not change the fact that beauty contests still hold women to unreasonable beauty standards, so it does send a message that young lesbian women can have the same opportunities,” California State University professor Blain Roberts said.

O’Flaherty grew up in Ohio and South Carolina working on farms, and is even a trained livestock judge. She is also a self-proclaimed girly girl, and says it was a struggle for her to become secure with her sexuality, as it did not fit the stereotypical lesbian mold.

“Knowing I might be gay but also being very feminine was kind of confusing for me because I didn’t fit into the stereotypical category I had in my head for a woman in the LGBT community,” she told Cosmopolitan. “It took many years of struggle to figure out who I was.” 

I can’t believe this day is finally here. MISS AMERICA, HERE I COME!! ✈️?? #MissAmerica #MissMissouri #LivingTheDream

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Learn a little bit more about me before the #MissAmerica Competition, 9/11 on ABC! #MissMissouri

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