It's some kind of miracle how comfortable Analouisa Valencia — a lesbian African-American/Latina beauty queen — is in her skin. Currently Miss Lyman, S.C., Valencia travels to the state capitol in July to compete in the Miss South Carolina contest and, hopefully, advance to the Miss America pageant. Valencia isn't coming out per se, because the 19-year-old college student has been out for years; she took her girlfriend, Tamyra Bell, to her prom and attended Bell's. But Valencia is ready to tell the world her story and remains optimistic the judges in Columbia will see her like so many already do: as a role model. The teen was candid in a recent interview with The Advocate, talking excitedly about her future and the women who inspire her.
The Advocate: How did you get involved in beauty pageants?
Analouisa Valencia: I’m from Spartanburg, S.C. and I started pageantry when I was Miss South Carolina Princess for Miss Spartanburg 2000. After that, I decided I wanted to be in pageants when I got older. So, when I got old enough I started to compete.
When did you come out?
Oh, wow. And you went to public school in South Carolina?
How was that received?
My teachers were ok with it. My mom at first said, "Well, I don’t support it, but I love you so I’ll support you." She’s ok with it now, but it's been a couple of years. My dad at first was very, very, very furious. I think it took him a good three weeks to finally accept the fact that I was just going to be who I was and be proud of it. My teachers were very supportive.
How would you describe the pageant circuit in South Carolina? Is it welcoming to LGBT people?
Well, I had one question during an interview that was, How would you feel about having a lesbian Miss South Carolina? I said, "I don’t think her sexuality has anything to do with it. It doesn’t define her as a person, because she’s still going to be a good human being." Miss South Carolina should be a great role model, but her sexual orientation shouldn’t define her as a person. And it shouldn’t define her getting a crown. I do have friends in the pageant circuit that are accepting of gay people and I find that it has given me a lot of support and a lot of extra push.
Since you came out, do things feel different in South Carolina? Do they feel more welcoming?
In certain parts it's a little bit more welcoming. There are certain organizations and certain people and certain areas that aren’t so welcoming of [gay people], so I guess we’re still getting there. Very slowly but surely.
Do you think people can't reconcile a beauty queen with the word "lesbian"?
That is kind of true, but at the same time I’m not thinking about that so much because I have people who are supportive. But I think it does play a part, a small part in me not having hadn’t won in local pageants because some judges knew.