Smiling as she sits in a float at St. Louis’ annual pride parade,Erin O’Flaherty gleams with a crown atop her head, a prize she clinched after being crowned Miss Missouri last month. For O’Flaherty, being a part of the event had personal significance, as she is the first openly gay Miss America contestant in the pageant’s 95-year history.

Her experience in the run-up to this September’s Miss America pageant, she said, has been an atmosphere that is nothing short of inclusive. “The Miss America organization has done a great job of wrapping their arms around me,” O’Flaherty, 23, told CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield. “Everyone who I’ve come into contact with has been nothing but supportive.” READ MORE