KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Missouri has its first openly gay Miss Missouri, and she will represent the state at the Miss America pageant later this year.
Erin O'Flaherty, 23, was crowned Miss Missouri on Saturday in Mexico, Missouri, and is the first openly gay woman to be named Miss Missouri, said Ann Jolly, chairman of the board of the Miss Missouri Scholarship Organization.
O'Flaherty said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that she came out as gay when she was 18, competed openly and knew going into the Miss Missouri pageant that she'd be making history if she won.
"I'm on cloud nine really just to be Miss Missouri," she said. "I don't know that I intended to be the first, but I am. So I'm very excited about it."
O'Flaherty believes she also will be the first openly gay woman to compete in the Miss America scholarship pageant, which is scheduled for Sept. 11 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A spokeswoman for the Miss America pageant didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
O'Flaherty, who is from South Carolina, said her platform is suicide prevention. While she hopes to reach out to the gay community, she said that will not be the sole focus of her reign as Miss Missouri.
"My focus of my year isn't going to be that I'm gay," said O'Flaherty, who owns a clothing store in suburban St. Louis.
"It's certainly a big part of who I am, and I will be promoting it and raising awareness for the LGBT community. But also there will be many appearances that I do that have nothing to do with that. And so I'm hoping that I can strike a really nice balance of staying true to the values of Miss Missouri and also being able to exercise my personal views."