100 Women We Love: Class Of 2019

Betty Jean Pace

Photo by Barbara Destefano

Betty Jean Pace is the reason they changed the application form for the Ms. Senior America Pageant. “They asked for the name of my husband; I crossed it out and put WIFE.” In that moment, Pace became the first out lesbian contestant. The pageant, held yearly in Atlantic City, New Jersey (the same state Pace hails from), is for women who have reached, as the pageant describes it, the “age of elegance.” Meaning they have passed the threshold of 60. Challenging what beauty for women of that age is, Pace, who is 60, has made a habit of defying appearances, even when she first came out. “Many people who I was close to didn’t understand at first and it got kinda ugly. I didn’t ‘look gay’ to them. I really didn’t know there was a particular look one had to have in order to be marked ‘gay.'” Pace did not have an easy time coming out, describing the process and reactions to her as “terrible.” And while the other contestants didn’t find out Pace was gay until the first day of rehearsal in June, she plans to follow one simple rule: “always be true to yourself. The more we come out, the easier it gets…I wasn’t put on this earth to hide.” That’s why she entered the competition in the first place. “I want to show the world that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight to have fun, show off your talent, take chances and really just live.” —JDG

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