Swe Zin Htet, who competed as Miss Myanmar in the Miss Universe pageant on Sunday night, wants to use her platform to help advance LGBTQ acceptance in her home country.
The 21-year-old competitor came out in a late November interview with beauty blog Missosology, in which she said, “I came to a full realization about my sexual orientation over a long period of time. I knew I was ‘one of them’ way back in 2015. It is personally quite challenging, but I feel that I have a greater voice and the best position to promote this cause. Some pageant fans know about it and they still support me, but this is the first time I am able to talk about it in public.”
She went on to add, “I want the world to accept the LGBTQ+ community and their right to choose their own path and pursuit of happiness. Love is the most powerful thing and people fall in love with human beings, not gender.”
In a subsequent interview with People, she said, “I have that platform that, if I say that I’m a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma. The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted… they are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.”
Speaking with Glamour, the contestant spoke even more definitively about her intention to advocate for LGBTQ rights, saying, “My goal is to make them look at me and others that are like me just the same.”
Htet was the first openly gay Miss Universe contestant in the pageant’s history. An openly trans contestant, Angela Ponce, competed last year as Miss Spain.
In Myanmar, officially designated as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar but also known as Burma, there is currently no legal recognition of LGBTQ rights; same-gender sexual activity is illegal, and punishable by 10 years to life in prison – though that law is “not used in practice,” according to the Myanmar Times’ 2018 year-end review of LGBT rights.