USA pageant comes out of the closet

Miss California 2012 is making history, as two openly lesbian participants are vying for the coveted crown, say they want to be an inspiration to others

For the first time in its 60-year history, openly lesbian contestants are competing to become Miss California.
Mollie Thomas (19) will be representing the West Hollywood area in the beauty pageant, while Jenelle Hutcherson is competing on behalf of Long Beach.

Role model: Mollie Thomas, the 19-year-old teen, wants to promote
equality and wants to promote visibility on current issues by participating
in the contest

The women, who were approached by pageant recruiters to take part, are battling nearly 400 other women to win the crown --Thomas, who has never competed in a pageant before, wanted to take part as it allowed her to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in a positive way, she said.

"I'm running for equality and will use this in order to promote visibility on current issues, to become a youth advocate and a role model," Thomas said,.

On her Facebook page, she added, "I am taking this opportunity not only to fulfil some of my own aspirations, but also to be a positive role model and inspiration for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) community and for girls everywhere."

Thomas, a part-time student at UCLA, has volunteered at a school for handicapped children in Mongolia and at an elephant reservation in northern Thailand.

She also helped rebuild homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

She is unable to recall exactly when she came out as gay, adding that her family has always been aware and supportive.

"My family is so open and accepting that I knew very young who I was and who I loved," she said.

When asked what her fears were about the pageant, she added, "I don't have any. Initially I wondered if the organisers and other contestants would accept or ostracise me, but I've been fine."

She will be joined by Hutcherson, who also hopes the contest will help spread a message of tolerance and equality.

"We have the power to create a better future for our kids by setting an example of treating each other with love and equality," she said.

The mentor at a California LGBT center, who has a Mohawk hairstyle, jokingly added, "That Miss California crown would sure look nice atop the mohawk."

"The state (pageant) will emphasise individuality and push the envelope even further," Keith Lewis, co-executive of the contest, said.

"This year's event will be bigger and reflect the progressive attitudes of the contestants."

Miss California is an annual event that scores contestants, aged 18 to 27, on their interview skills and in a swimsuit and evening gown section.

It is a traditionally conservative event, with girls who have given birth to a child or who have been married or divorced are unable to compete.

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