Erin O’Flaherty is an openly gay woman – and now, Miss Missouri 2016, a history-making combination.
O’Flaherty, who was crowned on Saturday in Mexico, Missouri, will be the first openly gay woman to represent the state in the upcoming Miss America pageant, according to the Kansas City Star.
“I am totally in disbelief. I was really not expecting this,” O’Flaherty, 23, told local newspaper the Mexico Ledger.
A graduate of the University of Central Florida, O’Flaherty owns and operates a boutique in Chesterfield, Missouri, according to the Ledger. Her platform is suicide prevention – a topic close to her heart, as a close high school friend committed suicide.
O’Flaherty thinks she is likely the first openly gay woman to compete on the national stage as well, but the Miss America Organization has yet to comment.
“I had my concerns about it,” O’Flaherty told The Riverfront Times of being out in the pageant world. “Progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri.”
She continued, “I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go, you know. 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.”
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O’Flaherty will compete for the Miss America crown in Atlantic City, New Jersey, this September.
“What I m going to try to do this year is open up people’s eyes and minds a little bit,” she told the Times.