When Erin O’Flaherty was crowned Miss Missouri on Saturday night, her victory was more than a triumph of beauty, talent and poise. It was a high-heeled step in the right direction for diversity, because O’Flaherty is the first openly gay woman to win the state pageant.

As Miss Missouri, O’Flaherty will compete in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City on Sept. 11. If she wins, she will be the first openly gay woman to wear that crown in the competition’s 95-year history.

O’Flaherty, a St. Louis resident, admits that she wondered if her sexual orientation would diminish her chances in the Miss Missouri pageant. “I had my concerns about it,” she told the Riverfront Times. “Progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri.”

But the judges did select the native of South Carolina from the field of 30 contestants.

The 23-year-old O’Flaherty came out as gay when she was 18, and she has been participating in pageants since she was a teenager. She said she had not intended to be a pioneer. “I’m on cloud nine really just to be Miss Missouri,” O’Flaherty said Saturday night. “I don’t know that I intended to be the first, but I am. So I’m very excited about it.”

O’Flaherty, who owns and runs a women’s boutique in a suburb of St. Louis, says her reign will be about more than LGBT matters. Her platform will be suicide prevention, partly because she lost a close friend to suicide at the age of 13. “I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go, you know,” she told the Riverfront Times. “It’s not going to be my focus, 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.”

The beauty of this news is that it will help shatter stereotypes — the stereotypes of gay women as less than feminine and the stereotypes of pageants as stodgy events stuck in the past. Congratulations all the way around!

RELATED: Let LGBT Be the Issue to Unify Us

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.