Missouri has its first openly gay Miss Missouri, and she will represent the state at the Miss America pageant later this year, the AP reports. 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 AP 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 from the AP seeking comment Wednesday, but many other outlets including Mediaite, the New York Daily News, Us magazine, Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Tonight, the Huffington Post, and others say she will be the first openly gay Miss America contestant. 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. "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," she says.