First out lesbian Miss America contestant tackles suicide prevention

Erin O'Flaherty poses with her crown.

Erin O'Flaherty poses with her crown. via Twitter

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Many of the 52 contestants in this year’s Miss America pageant want to cure diseases, end bullying, succeed in business or launch careers that will make them famous.

But the secret wish of one is to own a pet monkey, another’s career goal is to work with penguins at a zoo exhibit, and a third wants to sit next to Anna Wintour at New York Fashion Week.

One wants to be the first lady of her state, one wants to be a backup dancer for Beyoncé, one wants to be a Rockette, and still another wants to meet former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and work at one of his orphanages in the Philippines.

Then there is the woman hoping to become the first openly lesbian Miss America, and a contestant who can rattle off the names of all the U.S. presidents in chronological order in under 20 seconds.

Each contestant has an impressive background of accomplishment and ambition. With the preliminary competition set to begin Sept. 6 and end with the Sept. 11 nationally televised finale, a look at some lesser-known aspects of their stories:

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THE TRAILBLAZER

Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, is the first openly lesbian contestant to win a state title in the Miss America pageant. Her platform is suicide prevention, an issue she says is particularly important with young gay people.

“People should understand that my year as Miss Missouri and hopefully as Miss America will not be solely about the fact that I’m gay,” she said. “While I honor the LGBT community and I am proud to be part of it, I have goals that have nothing to do with my sexuality. I encourage people to understand that this is who I am but it’s not all that I am.”

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HANG UP AND DRIVE

Miss Kansas, Kendall Ellen Schoenekase, was the victim of a car accident involving a driver who was texting, and is a registered nurse who often treats patients injured in similar accidents.

She has made it her life’s mission “to put an end to this preventable epidemic.” She advocated for the implementation of legislation for uniform penalties for texting and driving in her state.

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COMING TO AMERICA

Miss Michigan, Arianna Quan, was born in China and came to America at age 14. She lists her defining experience as “the moment I stepped off the plane in America from Beijing and saw a blue sky for the first time in my life.”

She is the first Asian-born Miss Michigan and naturalized citizen to win that state’s title. Her platform is “Being American: Immigration & Citizenship Education.”

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ME AND MY MONKEY

Miss California, Jessa Carmac, dreams of traveling the world, sampling cuisine from each corner of the globe. Her secret wish “is to have a pet monkey.”

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BAKER’S DOZEN

Miss Arizona, Katelyn Niemiec, is known in her family as “The Cookie Monster”; her favorite way to spend the day is “baking cookies and then forcing myself to give them to people so I don’t eat them all.”

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SAVVY CHOICES

Miss Arkansas, Savvy Janine Shields, is an art major who wants to help people make better food choices. Her secret dream is to be a backup dancer for Beyoncé.

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BLACK TIE OPTIONAL

Miss Florida, Courtney Sexton, encourages young people to volunteer to help others. She wants to work with penguins at a zoological exhibit.

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ALWAYS THERE

Miss District of Columbia, Cierra Jackson, never missed a day of school from the first day of kindergarten through high school graduation. She worked as a communications intern in the Obama White House and hopes for a career in music.

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TRIPLE CROWN

Miss Ohio, Alice Magoto, has a three-pronged goal: to become an anchor on “Good Morning America,” to become a world famous cake decorator, and to win the “American Ninja Warrior” competition.

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RAPID HISTORY

Miss New Mexico, Stephanie Michelle Chavez, can name all 44 U.S. presidents in chronological order in under 20 seconds.

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TEBOW! TEBOW!

Miss South Dakota, Julia Caroline Olson, says her dad told her she had “lost puppy syndrome,” always wanting to help someone in trouble. Her dream is to meet former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and travel to the Philippines to serve at one of his orphanages.

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DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS

Miss Texas, Caroline Carothers, hopes to one day be the first lady of the Lone Star State. A baton twirler, she wants to change students’ attitudes about math by taking a more positive view of the subject.

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SAVE ME A SEAT

Miss Wisconsin, Courtney Pelot, wants to promote literacy. Her secret wish is to sit next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour at New York Fashion Week.

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KICK, TWO, THREE …

Miss Nebraska, Aleah Peters, chose preventing cyberbullying as her platform. Her secret wish is to be a Radio City Music Hall Rockette dancer.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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