It didn't go quickly at all. With my mom it went quicker. With my dad it took a lot longer. He was kind of sad – he's a dad, he always envisioned his little girl in a white wedding dress marrying a man. But now, he's happy. He understands.
What's competing like?
At first I was a little afraid of competing the way I am. Now I realize I'm a role model for so many people because of the way I am. It's OK to be who you are. No one knows you better than you; no one loves you better than you. This is my first year competing as openly gay. It took me from 14 to 19 – it took five years [to be public about it in competition].
It feels so much better. I'm so much more confident, so much more relaxed. I don't feel like I'm being judged as hard as I thought I'd be judged. I'm having a lot more fun.
How did you decide to come out in the competition?
It wasn't the easiest decision to make. Especially the state I was in before – I just wasn't in the right place. And South Carolina is notorious for its pageant girls. I had to talk to my parents and my girlfriend's parents. We were preparing ourselves for a lot of negativity and for me being pushed away. Surprisingly, I was being embraced and seeing a lot of positive feedback. Honestly, I don't know how to express my gratefulness.
Has anything surprised you about competing this year?
Just the positive feedback and support from everyone. My family's support – they've been nothing put supportive, which was a little surprising. I thought they'd be upset, worried for me more. My dad has been very supportive – he went on so many interviews with me. He's finally really backing me up. He's so proud of me.
What kind of response have you gotten from the Hispanic community?
I haven't received any negative feedback from Hispanic community. They've been very supportive because I am a minority and I am bilingual. I think people like having someone represent them in a positive way.
What made you make that decision this year?
Encouragement from my family. They said a lot of young people would look up to me because of my coming out in the state I live in. South Carolina is the south. It's a conservative state, a very Christian state. A lot of young people have come out and said they've been able to feel comfortable with themselves after seeing me.
What would you say to people who find themselves in the same situation as you were before coming out?
Funnily enough, someone from Facebook just asked me the same question. She said, "I'm gay, black, I live in the South, I'm worried about coming out." I said, first of all just be comfortable with yourself. Secondly, always remember that no matter what you are, God created you that way for a reason. Third, just remember my favorite Dr. Seuss quote, "Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
You mentioned your girlfriend, tell me about your relationship.
We've been together almost three years. We went to our proms together when we graduated high school, went to two, back to back. Like every normal relationship, it's changed us. She does encourage me to do things that I never felt I could be confident doing, especially with competing. We do small things, karaoke night at Applebee's since my talent is singing. We practice my walks – we practice in a park at home before I walk. She asks me questions. She's very supportive.
How are you feeling with the finals coming up this weekend?
I'm really excited to be representing a lot of people. If I won the title I'd be very excited to represent the state. I've gotten emails, tweets, messages from all over the world supporting me. I've gotten messages from Germany, Australia, Russia. There have been so many articles in so many languages. It's just been amazing.