News that Erin O'Flaherty, Miss Missouri, will compete for the crown of Miss America this weekend as its first openly lesbian contestant has left some LGBT supporters in a real quandary.
Beauty “competitions” are a known tool of the patriarchy after all, an embarrassing throwback to the 'Mad Men' era (and even further back) which turns otherwise brilliant adult women into eye-catching adornments and arm candy and in doing so oppresses them. Why would anyone sign up for that?
Well, gay fans are lining up to cheer O'Flaherty on this weekend because she creates LGBT awareness and visibility within mainstream society – and that really matters. So it looks like most of the community are going for the second option and tuning in.
If she wins, she will be the first openly lesbian winner to do so in the pageant's 95-year history.
It helps that O'Flaherty is such an obvious good sport about it, too. To further endear herself to her own community O’Flaherty is competing on the platform of teen suicide prevention, an issue that's sadly of vital importance to the LGBT community, who face bullying and hostility at much higher frequency.
You may not be aware of this, but pageants are show business and show business is filled with the gays. So there's some poetic justice in the fact that now, after generations spent invisibly competing in or helping to present pageants behind the scenes, gays and lesbians will finally get to see someone like themselves walking onto the main stage.
“Behind the scenes, we’ve been well-represented, but I’m the first openly gay title holder, so I’m very excited,” O'Flaherty told The Associated Press. “I knew going in that I had the opportunity to make history. Now I get to be more visible to the community and meet more people.”
Aftet she won the Miss Missouri crown in June, Cosmopolitan magazine asked O'Flaherty if it had “been hard to live in states like Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida where they are generally more conservative than others” or if she had “felt any pressure to stay closeted for pageants or in your personal life?”
“I would never, ever let anybody pressure me to do that,” O'Flaherty replied. “This is who I am and the judges chose me! I’m not the kind of person who is going to give in to that pressure, but I actually haven’t felt that much pressure.”
Josh Randle, chief operating officer of the Miss America Organization, said the pageant reflects an evolving America. "Through every major milestone of our nation's evolution, Miss America has provided a voice for women from all walks of life, and, this year, we welcome our first openly gay contestant," he said.
"Miss America contestants continue to be the best and brightest in the country, and we proudly support each and every young woman who competes in our national program."