In an entry on her personal blog, former Miss Kentucky and Miss America contestant Djuan Keila Trent declared, "I am queer." Quite a few media outlets picked up the story, and inevitably there was a barrage of comments on the articles asking why we should even care or why coming out was even necessary. Should she have come out? Yes. Should we care? Damn right.
With her announcement, Trent becomes the first out contestant in the history of the Miss America pageant. Not exactly seen as an event friendly to women's equality or issues of diversity, with the recent crowning of an Indian-American Miss America and now knowledge of a queer former participant, perhaps there is evidence of change within the structure of the event hierarchy. Yet, this change has been very slow indeed.
The slow rate of change and the dynamics of underrepresentation make coming out a necessity. It is by no means an obligation, but it is definitely something which must be done by a significant enough number of individuals in order to effect change. We can't all keep our status to ourselves if we want to stop being invisible in representations of the world around us. If we are all silent, we will never see to it that our rights are respected.
Trent herself addresses the necessity of coming out in her blog post:
Ideally, I would love to one day live in a society where coming out is no longer necessary because we don't make assumptions about one another's sexuality and homophobia is laid to rest. For now, that is more of an ideal than it is a reality...People can't know that their best friend, brother, sister, co-worker, neighbor, news anchor, favorite singer, or local coffee shop barista is being oppressed and denied the rights in which their heterosexual counterparts are so happily welcomed partake, unless you open your mouth and say it.
Straight, cisgender individuals will, for the foreseeable future, have the privilege of being able to toss off comments about, "and this is news?" or "and we should care because?" when they do not have to deal with the personal experiences of being marginalised on account of orientation or gender identity. However, numerous examples of change in hearts and minds when a family member or friend comes out can feed positively into the overall narrative.
And in a world still so hostile to people of different orientations and gender identities, the public announcement from a well known figure can give courage and confidence to others who may still be struggling with the decision to come out. It is the public figures who have come out before her who Trent says has inspired her to make her own announcement.
Thank you for giving me the courage to change my "they" to "we", "them" to "us", and "their" to "our." You have given me the courage to speak up and speak out when I forget my "QUEER" stamp in the mornings. And I can only hope, that I might inspire someone else in that same way.
No, Djuan. Thank you. Representation matters.
Image via AP.