Erin O'Flaherty made history last weekend when she was crowned Miss Missouri, becoming the first openly gay woman to win a state pageant. She beat out 29 other contestants to capture the crown.
Subsequently, she will also be the first openly gay Miss America contestant at the annual pageant.
"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," she told ABC News. "But, mainly, I'm excited to represent the LGBT community."
The 23-year-old competed in pageants for one year before she publicly came out and has been an inspiration since.
"As I've become more and more open with who I am, and more comfortable with myself, that's really translated into my performance," she told Cosmopolitan.
O'Flaherty is also as an advocate for suicide awareness and works with the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBT youth. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network says that LGBT youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide.
It's an issue that's deeply personal for O'Flaherty because, at age 13, she lost one of her best friends to suicide.
"As I navigated the grieving process, I became educated on the warning signs of suicide," she told Cosmopolitan. "It became my mission to spread this message."
O'Flaherty hopes that her incredible story will empower other LGBT youth to think positively.
"It took many years of struggle to figure out who I was. Femme lesbians are underrepresented in the LGBT community. They certainly exist, but many find it very hard to be accepted," she told Cosmopolitan. "I have been able to connect with other femme lesbians and I am so proud to be a part of this community. I hope that I can just reach someone that needs the help that I could have used back then."