There She Is: Miss Missouri’s Historic Steps Toward Miss America Title

When Miss America is crowned in Atlantic City each year, the experience is replete with gasps, tears, and, well, pageantry. 

Though the Miss America stage isn't always set for barrier-breaking moments in equality, America is getting just that this September, when the first openly lesbian competitor enters the battle for the crown.

Erin O'Flaherty — otherwise known as Miss Missouri — is a shop owner and, now, a groundbreaking beauty queen.

“It's certainly making history, and I'm not sure I set out to do that," O'Flaherty told Good Morning America recently. "But I am the first openly gay Miss Missouri and contestant to head to Miss America, so I am excited about that."

O'Flaherty's platform is suicide prevention — a cause she feels especially passionately about as an LGBT person. As she reminded GMA viewers, an LGBT youth is eight times as likely to attempt suicide than his or her straight peers. She has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is also working with The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to preventing suicide for LGBT youth. 

“My message to all young people out there who have a dream but may be a little scared, is that no matter what obstacles are in your way, it does get better," O'Flaherty said.

It's a message that she connects with personally.

"I had dreams and goals and I was very scared at first to become who I am," she said. "But once I stepped into who I was is when I became most successful."

The story, she hopes, will reach people across the country. And, though LGBT culture is starting to intersect with pageant culture across the globe, this year's competition stands to set a new standard for equality and inclusion.

"I hope it will be a great year of social change," O'Flaherty said.