The LGBT community will soon be rooting for one of their own in one of the biggest beauty pageants in America, for the first time in history.
Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, will compete for the Miss America crown this weekend as the first openly lesbian contestant.
“Behind the scenes, we’ve been well-represented, but I’m the first openly gay title holder, so I’m very excited,” she told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I knew going in that I had the opportunity to make history. Now I get to be more visible to the community and meet more people.”
Rich Helfant, executive director of the Greater Atlantic City LGBT Alliance, helps run the Miss’d America pageant, a drag spoof of the Miss America pageant that has become popular in Atlantic City as an entertainment and fundraising event. He said he’ll watch the Miss America pageant finals September 11 with extra interest this year.
Miss’d America took its name from the fact that many gay pageant workers toiled behind the scenes during Miss America and never got to see what was happening onstage.
“They literally missed Miss America,” Helfant said.
Robert Hitchen of Philadelphia appears regularly in the Miss’d America pageant under the stage name Sandy Beach and recalled decades of behind-the-scenes work on pageants, including designing floats, and later riding on them in Miss America parades.
The “Show Us Your Shoes” parade that has become a fixture of Miss America, in which contestants ride in vehicles on the Boardwalk and show off their state-themed footwear, sprang from the interest of gay spectators, he said.
“We would watch the parade from the deck of a hotel and we’d look down into the cars and see some of the women wearing slippers or being barefoot, and we started calling out, ‘Show us your shoes!'” he recalled. “We sort of embarrassed them into wearing these big elaborate shoes, which are the highlight of the parade now.”