Ninety hopefuls from around the world will vie for the crown at tonight’s (Dec 8) Miss Universe pageant. Among them is Miss Myanmar, Swe Zin Htet. The 21-year-old singer-actress is the first openly gay woman in Miss Universe history.
Htet came out publicly on the beauty blog Missology on Nov 29. She has been in a three-year relationship with popular Burmese singer Gae Gae.
“It’s like I just started a new chapter in life,” she told People magazine. “Love is the basic thing.”
Htet opened up to her parents five years ago. “At first, they were mad. They didn’t accept me,” she said in the interview. “But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me.”
After winning the Miss Myanmar crown, Htet decided that it was time to come out in public. “I thought it would help me more than hurt me by coming out as a lesbian and being true to who I am,” she said. “The LGBTQ community in Myanmar and across the world have been so supportive of me since coming out.” Fans have nicknamed her Superman.
However, the majority of Myanmar is not as accepting. Members of the LGBTQ community are verbally teased and beaten and, according to the Myanmar Times, same sex relations “carries sentences ranging from 10 years to life in prison”.
“I want to change that. I feel like if I am open about my sexuality others will open up, too,” said Htet. “My goal is to make them look at me and others that are like me just the same.”
Htet also hopes to use her platform to help another marginalised group: Victims of child abuse. “Childhood rape is very common in my country,” she said. “My platform allows me to make sure that the people who are committing these crimes will be punished.”
UNICEF is working with Myanmar to better respond to cases of child sexual abuse. “I want perpetrators to be punished and for parents to be aware of the problem,” she explained. “But most importantly, I want to make sure people are more aware of this issue by spreading awareness across social media.”
The pageant world is slowly starting to show more diversity and representation. Last year, Miss Universe had its first transgender contestant. This year, for the first time, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA are all women of colour.