— -- Erin O'Flaherty has been crowned the 2016 Miss Missouri, becoming the first openly gay woman to win a state pageant leading to the coveted Miss America competition.
“It’s certainly making history and I’m not sure I set out to do that, but I am the first openly gay Miss Missouri and contestant to head to Miss America so I am excited about that. But, mainly, I’m excited to represent the LGBT community,” O'Flaherty, 23, said on “Good Morning America” today live from St. Louis.
“We’re underrepresented in public in positions of influence. So I’m excited to take that on and I hope that my presence will help with visibility for the community.”
Her platform is suicide prevention, in which she’ll be promoting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and working closely with The Trevor Project, which is the nation’s leading crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth. She hopes her title will help her in that work.
“LGBT youth are actually up to eight times as likely to commit suicide as compared to their straight peers if they come from an unaccepting environment,” she said. “So I’m really excited to partner with them and I hope it will be a great year of social change.”
O'Flaherty doesn’t want to be known only for being gay, but instead for using that platform to inspire other LGBT youth to follow their dreams.
“My focus of this year, I hope, will not be solely on my sexuality,” she said. “I’m excited to represent the Miss America organization and I think what my message really is, is that I had dreams and goals and I was very scared at first to become who I am. But once I stepped into who I was is when I became most successful.
“My message to all young people out there who have a dream but may be a little scared, is that no matter what obstacles are in your way,” she explained, “it does get better.”
The Miss America competition will be held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, this September on ABC.