Miss Missouri Erin O’Flahrerty is out and proud


Years ago, I went to the Miss America pageant to cover it for another media outlet. My second-favorite thing* that happened during the whole week of festivities took place during one of our daily press briefings. A Miss America representative started off his presentation by lamenting the fact that the press never seemed to talk about the thousands of dollars the organization gives out in scholarships. He wondered aloud why we didn’t talk about Miss America as an institution that is focused on women’s education.

Clear as a bell, one of my fellow reporters shouted out “Maybe it’s the swimsuits!”

The journalist in question was feeling extra-free to shout things out because he was already drunk at 11 a.m., as a surprising number of reporters were. The main reason for the accelerated imbibing schedule was that almost nobody could believe that they had, in these modern times, been sent to cover a beauty pageant.

What I’m getting at is that people generally do not associate the Miss America pageant with social progress.

But this year we are, because Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flahrerty, is the first out lesbian to compete in the pageant. (Other queer contestants have come out after the pageant, but O’Flaherty is the first to compete while out.)

Miss-Missouri-Erin-OFlaherty-headshotVia Miss America Pageant

O’Flaherty’s platform is suicide prevention, with a specific focus on supporting LGBT teenagers. On Thursday, O’Flaherty told USA Today that coming out at 18 was difficult, but she recognizes how lucky she was to have a completely supportive family. She says that whether she wins or not, she’ll be working to help the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Trevor Project.

However you might feel about beauty pageants, O’Flaherty looks like she has the makings of an excellent LGBT role model. Check out this instagram post for a measure of her moxie.


Just before my interview on CNN, I paused to capture this moment. Since my crowning, I’ve received national attention with reactions to my presence that have ranged from vicious and hateful to supportive and joyous. At times, I’ve wanted nothing more than to protect myself and hide from the attention. But what change would that inspire? I want to put myself on the line. I’ll take every bit of hate if it means that another little girl who is coming into her own doesn’t have to. I’ll have the tough conversations until I’m blue in the face – all if it means opening minds and beginning the conversation of equality. Leadership is not always just showing up or pitching in. Sometimes it’s being on the front lines of a movement you’re scared to death of fighting. #missamerica #missmissouri #leadership

A photo posted by Miss Missouri (@missamerica.mo) on


While the big show is Sunday, O’Flaherty and the other women have already had a full week of rehearsals for the show — those big dance numbers don’t just fall into place by themselves — and three nights of preliminary competitions. (If you’ve ever watched the pageant and wondered how they can shake out the ten finalists so quickly, that would be the reason.)

If you’re wondering how things are shaping up so far, Tuesday night Miss Tennessee won the preliminary talent competition and Miss District of Columbia won “Lifestyle and Fitness.” (That would be the swimsuits.) Miss Arkansas won Wednesday’s preliminary for talent and Miss Maryland took Lifestyle and Fitness. And Thursday’s preliminary winners were Miss Michigan (Talent) and Miss Ohio (Fitness). That hardly means that O’Flaherty is out of the running, since the top ten will be picked via overall scores and some intense interviews with the judges.


Still, it can’t hurt to get out there and root in force for the woman who might become our first out gay Miss America. I’ll be livetweeting the pageant on Sunday with the hashtags #GoMsMO and #MyoohahahaTheGayAgendaIsWorkingItsReallyWorkingMiddleAmericaWeAreComingForYou. Probably mostly that first one.

In the meantime, O’Flaherty will be competing in Friday’s Show Us Your Shoes parade, a captivatingly nutball tradition in which the contestants are driven along the Atlantic City boardwalk in classic cars while waving their elaborate state-themed high heels. The year I went, Miss Hawaii had bespangled pineapples on her feet and Miss Vermont had one shoe of pancakes and one of maple syrup. It is one of the great injustices of our time that this parade is not broadcast in its entirety at least weekly.

Seriously: Watch O’Flaherty’s fun fact and tell me you won’t be rooting for her.


Yeah, I thought so. See you Sunday. #GoMsMO!

Miss America airs live on ABC this Sunday, September 11, 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific.

*My favorite thing that happened during Miss America pageant week is one of my favorite things that has ever happened to me. I went to a not-officially-affiliated-with-Miss-America fashion show to get a preview of the hottest looks for the next pageant season. One dress, which showed more skin and was generally tawdrier than the others, got a frosty reception from the crowd. Later I asked my informant, a magnificently beautiful pageant veteran, what that had been all about. She leaned in and, in an elegant Southern accent that was dripping with delicate contempt, she said, “Well, honey, that’s what we would normally call a “Miss USA” dress.”