This Sunday, Erin O’Flaherty will become the first openly gay woman to compete in the Miss America pageant. O'Flaherty landed the title of Miss Missouri in June. "I have the opportunity to serve as a reference point for LGBT youth where none other exists," O'Flaherty told The Huffington Post. "When I was coming into my own and identifying as a feminine lesbian, I struggled to find role models who I perceived to be 'like me.' I hope that I can serve as that reference point for other LGBT youth who are struggling with their identity. This is not just an issue of diversity, but saving lives." O'Flaherty's official Miss America platform is suicide prevention, and she is a big supporter of the American Foundation for Suicide as well as The Trevor Project, a suicide hotline for LGBT youth.
The contestant, now 23, made the decision to come out when she was 18. "My family was absolutely nothing but supportive, and I knew that when I decided to come out and when I was ready, it would be that way," O'Flaherty told USA Today. "So my coming out was actually much easier than millions of people." The Miss America contestant graduated from the University of Central Florida, where she first became involved in the world of pageants, as Cosmopolitan reports. This weekend, she'll be performing a musical number from Wonderland for the talent portion of the competition, but that's not her only special skill. Growing up on a farm, she also became familiar with barnyard animals — she's a trained livestock judge. You can see O'Flaherty's historical appearance in this year's competition on September 11 on ABC.