Miss Myanmar representative Swe Zin Htet made history at the 2019 Miss Universe competition. She is the first openly gay contestant to ever compete in the pageant.
In 67 years of history, the pageant had never welcomed an out lesbian on its stage until Sunday night. Zin Htet publicly came out as a lesbian just before the pageant took place in Atlanta, Georgia.
Not only is the 20-year-old making strides in the pageant world, but she’s also breaking barriers in her home country of Myanmar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Zin Htet told the pageant publication Missology that she’s known that she was gay since 2015, but felt it was finally time to let the world know after she was crowned Miss Myanmar. She hopes her coming out will “promote equality” and “freedom of choice.”
“It is personally quite challenging but I feel that I have a greater voice and the best position to promote this cause,” Zin Htet said.
The penalty for homosexuality in Myanmar ranges from 10 years to life in prison. That law is rarely enforced. Still, Zin Htet told Glamour that the majority of Burmese people are “not accepting” of her sexuality. Her decision to come out could cause a backlash.
“LGBTQ people in Myanmar do not have equal rights and I want to change that,” she said. “I feel like if I am open about my sexuality, others will open up too.”
Thankfully, she says the LGBTQ community in Myanmar and worldwide has been incredibly supportive of her since she came out.
Zin Htet didn’t take home the crown on Sunday. Instead, the victory went to another groundbreaking contestant, Miss South Africa.
But Miss Myanmar still made her country proud, and the Miss Universe Organization championed her for sharing her story. The group’s president Paula Shugart wrote: “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.”