By Moni Basu
(CNN) — At 7, Analouisa Valencia was crowned Palmetto Princess in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She relished it — and like a lot of little girls, she dreamed of becoming Miss America one day.
In a few months, Valencia, now 19, will take the stage for the Miss South Carolina contest, hoping for victory and a chance to compete for the coveted national title.
But she’s no ordinary contestant. She will mark a first in her conservative home state.
Valencia’s father is from Mexico; her mother, an African-American. Valencia came out as a lesbian when she was in the ninth grade and took her girlfriend Tamyra Bell to her high school prom.
She was already shredding stereotypes of beauty pageants because she’s biracial. But a lesbian beauty pageant contestant from South Carolina?
“I just really wanted to be an advocate for equality for everyone this year,” she says on the phone before heading off to classes at Spartanburg Community College. She eventually wants to earn a business degree at the University of South Carolina.
Her participation in the Miss South Carolina contest is in part a human rights campaign: she is promoting rights for people with special needs (she coaches Special Olympics gymnasts), for racial minorities, for gay people.
She has already thought about her answers if the judges question her on this score. She will be perfectly open and honest about who she is, about their opinions.
“I want to show the judges who I really am,” she says. “I want to show them how passionate I am about my platform, how passionate I am for being an advocate for equality.”
South Carolina ranks low nationally on LGBT rights. It bans same-sex marriage, does not afford employment, housing or hate-crime protections for LGBT people and has unconstitutional sodomy laws still on the books.
For Valencia to make a run for Miss South Carolina is “courageous,” says Ryan Wilson, the executive director of the South Carolina Equality Coalition, a statewide LGBT civil rights group.
“I think it takes a lot of courage for any young person to live openly and authentically. We are extremely proud of Analouisa,” Wilson says.
He says beauty pageant contestants can be stereotyped, but they can often afford young women a chance to show leadership.
“She can be a role model for LGBT youth,” Wilson says.
There hasn’t been negative feedback, Valencia says. So far.
But she’s prepared to cope with ugliness if it surfaces. For the time being, she’s enjoying her title of Miss Lyman, her hometown just a few miles from Spartanburg.
She’s been taking voice lessons every Friday. At the Miss South Carolina pageant in July, she will sing Leona Lewis’ “Footprints in the Sand.” She’s confident she will make an impression.