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Erin O’Flaherty Makes History as the First Openly Gay Miss America Contestant

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Erin O’Flaherty became the first openly gay Miss America contestant in history when she was crowned Miss Missouri 2016 on Saturday, June 18.

Related: PHOTOS: Miss America 2016 Bikini Bodies Pictures

O’Flaherty, 23, is excited to hold the Show Me State’s title (“I’m on cloud nine,” she told the Associated Press on Wednesday, June 22), but revealed she was hesitant about making her orientation known.

Related: PHOTOS: Miss America 2015 Bikini Bodies Pictures

“I had my concerns about it. Progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri,” she told the Riverfront Times.

Miss Missouri 2016 Erin O'Flaherty on June 18, 2016.
Miss Missouri 2016 Erin O’Flaherty on June 18, 2016. Brenda Fike/Ledger via AP

Related: PHOTOS: Miss America 2014 Bikini Bodies Pictures

O’Flaherty, who owns a women’s boutique, first came out publicly after winning the title of Miss UCF as an 18-year-old freshman at her alma mater, the University of Central Florida.

“My coming out was very public, which was hard because you want it to be very private,” she said. “The public access to that was very challenging because I wanted to protect my relationship and who I am and come to terms with myself before the rest of the world got a chance to.”

While she has the nation’s attention, O’Flaherty plans to use her new role responsibly. She aims to raise awareness for the LGBT community, but that isn’t her only priority. Her platform also includes suicide prevention, a cause close to her heart after a friend of hers took their own life at the age of 13.

Miss City of Fountains Erin O'Flaherty performs during the Miss Missouri pageant in Mexico, Mo.
Miss City of Fountains Erin O’Flaherty performs during the Miss Missouri pageant in Mexico, Mo. Brenda Fike/The Mexico Ledger via AP

“I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go, you know,” she said. “It’s not going to be my focus, but I certainly hope my presence will help people open up a little bit more. I’m very open about it. It’s never going to be something I try to hide because I’m very proud to be a member of the LGBT community.”

Tune in to the 96th annual Miss America pageant on Sunday, September 11, airing on ABC.

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