Erin O'Flaherty became the first openly gay Miss Missouri on June 18 in Mexico, Missouri.
"I'm on cloud nine really just to be Miss Missouri," O’Flaherty told The Associated Press. "I don't know that I intended to be the first, but I am. So I'm very excited about it."
The 23-year-old pageant winner's platform is suicide prevention because when O'Flaherty was 13 years old, a close friend took her own life. She also knows how suicide has affected the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and community.
"My focus of my year isn't going to be that I'm gay," O’Flaherty added. "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."
O’Flaherty, owner of a St. Louis women’s clothing store, will likely achieve another first on Sept. 11 when she competes in the Miss America pageant; those officials have not commented.
O’Flaherty, who came out when she was 18 years old, was concerned her sexual orientation might hurt her chances in Missouri.
"I had my concerns about it," O’Flaherty told the Riverfront Times. "Progressive is not exactly a word people might think of when you think Missouri."
O’Flaherty was born in South Carolina, and went to college in Orlando, Florida, at the University of Central Florida where she won Miss UCF soon after announcing that she was a lesbian:
"My coming out was very public, which was hard because you want it to be very private. 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.
"I didn’t choose to be the first; I just am. Often you hear that our politics don’t always match our people and I think that’s really true. What I’m going to try to do this year is open up people's eyes and minds a little bit.
"I don’t carry a rainbow flag with me everywhere I go, you know. 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."