Miss Universe is Breaking Barriers With Its First Openly Gay Contestant

It’s taken 67 years, but when 90 beauty pageant hopefuls strut their stuff across the stage for the Miss Universe competition this Sunday, December 8th, they will be joined by the pageant’s first openly gay contestant—and it’s about time.

The pageant world isn’t especially known for its inclusivity. Contestants have historically been overwhelmingly thin, white and model tall. But times are changing. Last year Miss Universe had their first openly trans contestant and this year, for the first time ever, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all black women.

By being the first out gay woman in Miss Universe’s history, Miss Myanmar Swe Zin Htet is helping to write the next chapter in pageant representation. She’s also leaving a lasting and hopefully change-inducing mark in her own country, where same sex relationships are illegal. “A majority of people in Myanmar are not accepting of this,” Zin Htet says of her sexuality. “But my goal is to make them look at me and others that are like me just the same.”

According to the Myanmar Times, members of the LGBTQ+ community can still be prosecuted for being who they are and loving who they love. They are verbally teased and beaten, and being gay is, “punishable with a lengthy stint in prison.”

That’s what makes Zin Htet’s bravery so impressive. “LGBTQ people in Myanmar do not have equal rights and I want to change that,” she says of her decision to come out despite knowing it could create a backlash in the country she calls home. “I feel like if I am open about my sexuality others will open up, too.”

By choosing to come out on such a public stage, she is opening the door for increased inclusivity—while also putting herself at risk. Of course, coming out so publicly wasn’t easy. “This decision was a little bit difficult for me because I’m shy,” she said, recognizing that coming out would increase the public’s interest in her private life.

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