Swe Zin Htet may not have been crowned Miss Universe at this weekend’s pageant in Atlanta, but she’s hoping to use her platform to make a global impact regardless.
The 21-year-old, who hails from Myanmar (formerly Burma), is the competition’s first contestant to publicly identify as a lesbian in its 67-year history.
“Proud,” the caption read.
“It is personally quite challenging but I feel that I have a greater voice and the best position to promote this cause,” Htet told Missosology. “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.”
“I want the world to accept the LGBTQ+ community and their right to choose their own path and pursuit of happiness,” she continued. “Love is the most powerful thing and people fall in love with human beings, not gender. We should always have the freedom of choice and promote equality.”
In an interview with People published last week, Htet said she first began coming to terms with her sexuality around 2015.
It took her parents some time to get used to the idea, she said, but “when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me.”
Coming out publicly has made her feel like she’s “just started a new chapter in life,” added Htet, who has been in a relationship with singer Gae Gae for three years. “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.”
An LGBTQ pride event in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, drew hundreds of revelers earlier this year. Same-sex relationships, however, are criminalized. Though the law is not widely enforced, the country’s penal code allows courts to punish gay sex with prison sentences.
Paula Shugart, president of The Miss Universe Organization, told People the group was “honored to give a platform to strong, inspirational women” like Htet.
“Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are,” Shugart said.