Speaking on the phone from Columbus hours before going onstage in the talent portion of the Miss South Carolina competition, Analouisa Valencia sure sounds like a beauty queen. She's polite and poised, with a soft, rolling southern accent.
Except she's anything but typical. Valencia's bi-racial – half Mexican, half African American – and she's a lesbian.
The 20-year-old Spartanburg, South Carolina native has been involved in beauty pageants since age 7, but this is her first time competing as openly gay. If she wins the title on Saturday July 13, she'll also win $25,000 in college scholarship money. Valencia hopes to pursue a business degree at the University of South Carolina and eventually open her own gymnastics gym – she's been coaching since she was 14, and currently works with a Special Olympics and regular gymnastics team that competes nationally.
Valencia spoke with Fusion about being a Latina, bi-racial gay woman in the Deep South, and of course, about her gown.
Ok, you're heading into the end of the contest. How's it been going so far?
Really well! Monday I had my interview. It went well, they asked a lot of questions about immigration and LGBT issues, which I was kind of expecting. I was confident and comfortable. Tuesday was my onstage question. I answered in Spanish, and the answer was translated to English. I think that really caught some people off guard. I was hoping to surprise people with that, so I felt good. [Wednesday] I did evening gown. I was terrified, but worked really hard – I was excited and proud, and I did my best. I showed off what I worked for.
How does it feel going into the final days of the competition?
I'm a lot more comfortable than last year because I came out this year and I could be more confident. Being bilingual also helps. I feel like I can communicate with a lot more people. There's only been one bilingual Miss America, and there's never been a bilingual Miss South Carolina. It feels very important to show that side of myself.
Tell us about your background. My mom is from South Carolina, my dad is from Michoacán. My mom went to a mission to Mexico – on a Mormon mission. And, yeah. They got together.
I've only met one other person who was Mexican and African American. We're really beautiful people – we're able to communicate with so many people because we come from two very different cultures. We can eat different foods, dance different kinds of dances, of course, speak different languages.
Do you feel like you're here representing something bigger than yourself?
Yes, I'm not just representing myself, but a lot of young people. Not only minorities and the LGBT community, but also my platform – special needs people. It's an issue that's so close to me, because I've been working with it for so long.
Tell me about coming out. When did that happen?
I was in 9th grade when I came out. I was really afraid at first, then I realized the ones that really care about me won't mind it, and the ones that do, don't matter. So I should be happy with who I am because I'm gonna be that way.
How did your family react?
My parents were not the happiest of family. But they realized they can't control what's going on in my life – I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do.
Did that process happen quickly?