23 year old Erin O’Flaherty is living a dream come true AND making history. Last month, she became the first openly gay female to win the title of “Miss Missouri” and will be competing in the exclusive Miss America pageant this upcoming September. Growing up, O’Flaherty struggled with her sexuality as a self-described “feminine girl” in Florence, South Carolina. She entered the pageant scene as a college student, while still in the closet. She recalls: “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.” Along with the talent, swimsuit, and interview portions, the Miss America Organization has every contestant do a platform issue which they are an advocate for. Currently, the reigning Miss Missouri’s platform is an issue that hits close to home: suicide prevention among LGBT youth including a focus on the Trevor Project.
She recalls the tragic event that led to her choosing this as a platform: “One of my best friends committed suicide when I was 13. As I navigated the grieving process, I became educated on the warning signs of suicide. It became my mission to spread this message; suicide is the second leading cause of death in individuals between the ages of 14 and 25, and the 11th leading cause of death, overall. LGBT youth are actually eight times more likely to try to commit suicide compared to their straight peers. That’s really what the Trevor Project, an organization I do work with, is all about. They act as a resource for LGBT youth; so far, this year, there have been almost 11,000 calls, texts, and chats into their hotline. That’s really staggering.”
O’Flaherty broke many barriers on getting where she is today and is currently preparing for Miss America. She recalls after being crowned Miss Missouri that she hopes to become a role model for other young women who are LGBT and will “try to be the best Miss Missouri that I can be and show that my sexuality is only one part of me. My service to the state is what’s going to make me stand out to them.” We wish O’Flaherty and the other 51 contestants, including NJ’s own Brenna Weick, the best of luck at Miss America.