The Miss Universe Pageant Featured Its First Openly Lesbian Contestant And Crowned Miss South Africa The Winner
Miss Universe made history this year. First crowning Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi as its winner. Tunzi has dark skin and a short-cropped afro — rampant anti-blackness means most people would not have conceived of her as the most desirable woman in the universe just a few years ago. Tunzi’s win is a win for black women across the universe but she wasn’t the only victor that night, even if she reigned supreme.
Swe Zin Htet, Miss Myanmar, is the pageant’s first openly gay contestant. In fact, Htet came out publicly only a week before the pageant’s final round. The competition hasn’t had an out contestant in its 67-year history. In Myanmar, homosexuality is illegal. Not only was Htet making a stance in Miss Universe, but in a country where she could face very real consequences, including an imprisonment sentence of 10 years to life.
Htet comes out to help the LGBTQ community back home.
The 21-year-old contestant wants to use her influence to change the laws against homosexuality in Burma, Myanmar. Members of the LGBTQ community in Burma still face all levels of discrimination and ostracization in society.
“I have that platform that, if I say that I’m a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma,” Htet said. “The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted. They are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.”
Htet came out on November 29 in an interview with a beauty blog called Missosology. When asked if Htet had any personal causes she told the interviewer that she strongly supported same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. It was only a matter of moments before she proudly revealed she was a lesbian herself.
“I came to a full realization about my sexual orientation over a long period of time. I knew I was ‘one of them’ way back in 2015. It is personally quite challenging but I feel that I have a greater voice and the best position to promote this cause. Some pageant fans know about it and they still support me but this is the first time I am able to talk about it in public,” she told Missosology.
Coming out wasn’t easy, but Htet hopes it will have a positive change.
Htet told People that coming out wasn’t easy. She knew who she was since she was 15 at least, but her parents weren’t immediately as understanding as she had hoped.
“At first, they were mad. They didn’t accept me. But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me,” she said.
Because LGBTQ members experience bigotry in her country, when she entered a three-year relationship with the famous Burmese singer Gae Gae, she had to keep it a secret. The contestant received praise from Paula Shugart, president of The Miss Universe Organization.
“We are honored to give a platform to strong, inspirational women like Miss Universe Myanmar, who are brave enough to share their unique stories with the world,” Shugart said in a statement. “Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are.”
While Htet is the first out and proud lesbian in the Miss Universe pageant, there have been other open members of the LGBTQ community. Last year, Angela Ponce, who happens to be trans, was crowned Miss Spain.
Black women reign supreme in the pageant world for the first time ever.
Hip Latina notes that in 2019, for the first time ever, Miss America, Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, and Miss Universe were all black women. The times, they’re changing! Beauty pageants have been known to promote a white European, cis, thin standard of beauty. While these wins are symbolic they do represent that the larger public perception of black women’s beauty is evolving.
“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me—with my kind of skin and my kind of hair—was never considered to be beautiful,” Tunzi said as she was crowned. “I think it is time that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”
Even Oprah Winfrey spoke out about the historic win.
Oprah Winfrey congratulated Tunzi on Twitter and invited her to speak at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Leadership was on Tunzi’s mind as well when she won.
She said, “I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity and that is what we should be teaching these young girls—to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself.”
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