Before Erin O’Flaherty even hits the Miss America stage, she will have already made history as the first openly gay contestant. While being in the pageant is a feat in itself, O’Flaherty, who is participating as Miss Missouri, still has her eyes set on taking home the crown.
“Being able to represent Miss America as a gay woman would mean a lot to me, because I really feel a responsibility to make the LGBT community proud, and make history and break another ceiling for a minority group,” O’Flaherty, 23, told People. Prior to O'Flaherty taking her shot at winning the crown in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Sunday, here are few things to know about her:
1. She Grew Up A “Feminine Girl”
Growing up in Florence, South Carolina, O’Flaherty described her young self as a “feminine girl” and says she struggled with her sexuality. “Knowing I might be gay but also being very feminine was kind of confusing for me,” O'Flaherty told Cosmopolitan, “because I didn't fit into the stereotypical category I had in my head for a woman in the LGBT community. It took many years of struggle to figure out who I was.”
2. She Wasn’t Hesitant To Reveal Her Sexuality While Competing
According to O’Flaherty, while it was “a little bit scary” to open up about her sexuality while competing, she knew she had to. “It wasn’t difficult, only because I knew that if I didn’t compete openly, I wouldn’t be successful and I wasn’t going to be true to myself. I really think to have the genuine experience, you have to be genuine in who you are.”
3. She’s An Ambassador For The Trevor Project and The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
O’Flaherty is big on suicide prevention among the LGBT youth and has worked closely with The Trevor Project and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “LGBT youth are actually up to eight times as likely to commit suicide as compared to their straight peers if they come from an unaccepting environment,” she said. “So, I’m really excited to partner with them and I hope it will be a great year of social change.”
4. She Doesn’t Only Want To Be Known For Being Gay
While being the first openly gay Miss America contestant will be much talked about during the show, O’Flaherty hopes people can see her as more than that. “My focus of this year, I hope, will not be solely on my sexuality.”
5. She Attended University Of Central Florida
Like many Miss America contestants, O’Flaherty is more than just a pretty face. She graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2014 with her bachelor’s degree in accounting. It was at UCF that O’Flaherty got into pageants. “There was a Miss UFC pageant, and [one year], Sarah York was Miss UCF. I didn’t really know much about her, but I saw her at all of our campus events. I saw how she carried herself with grace and poise, and I just decided that I wanted to be her,” she said.
6. She Owns A Boutique
When O’Flaherty is not competing in pageants, she owns and runs Rachel’s Grove, a women’s boutique located in Chesterfield, Missouri.
The 2017 Miss America competition airs Sunday, Sept. 11 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.