Erin O’Flaherty made history on June 18 when she was crowned Miss Missouri: she is the first openly gay woman to hold that title.
Now, as she continues on to the national Miss America pageant, Erin is on track to make more history still, as the first out lesbian to compete for the title of Miss America, and maybe, with a little luck of the Irish, win.
O’Flaherty, 23, graduated from the University of Central Florida with a major in legal studies and owns a boutique clothing shop, Rachel’s Grove, in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis, with her mother, aunt and sister.
She came out at the age of 18 and was open about her sexuality throughout the Miss Missouri competition.
"I'm on cloud nine really just to be Miss Missouri," she said. "I don't know that I intended to be the first [gay contestant] but I am. So I'm very excited about it.”
She added that while she’s thrilled to be the first openly gay contestant, the focus of her campaign will lie with another issue that’s very important to her.
Hey there! Erin here, officially signing in as Miss MO 2016. So excited to serve this amazing state �� pic.twitter.com/MRlYYYLqsC— Miss Missouri (@MissAmericaMO) June 23, 2016
"My focus of my year isn't going to be that I'm gay," she said. "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."
At the Miss America pageant, which takes place September 11 in Atlantic City, O’Flaherty’s platform will be suicide prevention, in memory of her best friend in high school, who took her own life. In an interview with Missouri’s Mexico Ledger, O’Flaherty shared that had she known more about depression and suicide, she may have been better able to help her friend, making her mission of spreading awareness exceptionally personal.
The 2013 runner up for Miss Universe, Patricia Yurena Rodriguez, came out in 2014.
Ireland’s beauty pageant The Rose of Tralee crowned its first openly gay winner in 2014: Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh.