South Carolina recently crowned a new beauty queen. In the time-honored Southern tradition of objectifying our women in order to find a suitable representative for our state and its values, Brooke Moesteller, a 23-year-old Furman graduate, also known as Miss Mount Pleasant, was crowned as the official State Belle. She is everything you would expect of a Miss South Carolina. She’s beautiful, intelligent and most of all, very generically Southern. As a law student at USC, she should represent the state well in the Miss America Pageant. We definitely won’t have to worry about another one of those cringe-worthy answers a la Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 who seemed to be confused about maps.
For those of you who take note of such things, Moesteller also won the swimsuit competition.
Missing from the top five finishers in our state pageant was a contestant from the LGBTQ community. Analouisa Valencia, known to the pageant crowd as Miss Lyman 2013 was also a competitor for this year’s title. Valencia brought a new platform to the Miss South Carolina competition simply by her presence. She is the openly gay, half-Mexican, half-African-American daughter whose mom is Mormon missionary from South Carolina and whose father is from Michoacán. Could this story be any more adorable? Her mom found love on a mission for the church. It’s almost like the back story from the Juliette Binoche – Johnny Depp movie “Chocolat.”
Valencia is only 19 but she embodies the poise of someone at least ten years older. She has worked as a model and spokesperson and has been an outspoken member for the rights of LGBTQ people for awhile. To be able to represent so many cultural facets effectively at such an early age seems almost impossible. Her mission would certainly be easier in a more progressive state but this South Carolina native seems to approach her task with an incredible combination of strength and grace. It could be that she has plenty of experience. She came out of the closet in 9th grade and since then, she has made her way forward without apologies.
Valencia has competed in pageants since she was 14. The world of pageants is not for the weak, as any female, male or transgendered competitor can tell you. In a world where every aspect of your appearance and performance is subject to critique, carrying a secret about your sexuality can be an added liability that could easily dissuade most competitors from continuing. Valencia dealt with the secrecy issue until this year when she decided to compete as an openly gay woman. While she was prepared for the worst in the field of the uber-competitive pageant girls of South Carolina, the result was surprisingly positive. Valencia said she felt embraced and that she received plenty of positive feedback. The competition has also helped her with the coming out process in her family. Solidly behind her and proud of her accomplishments, her father now accompanies her on interviews.
As a little gay boy growing up in the South, I have been around the pageant girls my entire life. I remember first and second grade classmates proudly wearing their sashes and tiaras to class for show-and-tell. I didn’t really understand the process then and based on some of the title holders that I met, I certainly didn’t understand what made someone a winner. Too often, it didn’t seem to be courage or kindness. Most of them seemed to be mass produced and unremarkable. With the phenomenon of “Toddlers and Tiaras” on TLC , I can unquestionably say that there is still a need for improvement. A quick Google search for images from the show looks more like a family portrait than a social commentary.
The process for Valencia has been quite different. By being unafraid to compete openly and honestly, she steps onto our pageant runway as an instant icon. There is a wealth of culture that she is graciously sharing with our state. I hope she is the catalyst that brings an awareness to an institution of our state that needs to be propelled into the 21st Century. Diversity is not the element that most people would say dominates our mainstream pageants here in South Carolina. In fact, with pageants still in existence for Miss Black S.C. and Miss Black USA, it speaks to our need for continued progress in the appreciation of all people and not simply seeing others in categories. Valencia is exactly what we need at this time to push us forward on that journey. If I had the power, I would crown her the winner in that category without hesitation.
OUT & ABOUT
Tuesday, July 23 - Pulse Ultra Club in downtown Myrtle Beach caps off a week of celebrating with a 1-year anniversary party with raffles, a Pulsation Diva Show featuring Ausia Lee, Breonna Tenae, Imani Tate and Jayla, and DJ Mackel spinning tunes all night long. Show time is at midnight. Pulse Ultra Club is at 803 Main Street, Myrtle Beach. Call 315-0019.
Saturday, July 27 – Care Team and Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church hosts the Carnival for a Cause from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The address is 1931 Fulmer St in Conway. The event includes free food, health screenings and plenty of kid-friendly activities.
Friday, Aug, 2 – The First Friday Happy Hour group will meet at Liberty Tap Room & Grill from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Liberty Tap Room & Grill is at 7651 N. Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach. For additional information, please visit www.firstfridayhappyhour.org or www.libertytaproom.com.
Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Drew Levy-Neal an e-mail to Drew.Levy.Neal@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Drew_Levy_Neal.