Lesbians Make History At Miss California USA, Look Hot, Feel Good

Way way back in 2011, we told you about Mollie Thomas and Jenelle Hutcherson, the two out lesbians running for Miss California USA. Thomas is a 2013 Autostraddle Calendar girl, and Hutcherson is a former Miss Long Beach contestant with an alternative lifestyle haircut. The Miss Donald Trump California USA pageant was held this past weekend, where Thomas ran as Miss Abbey West Hollywood (duh) and Hutcherson ran as Miss Downtown Long Beach.

A SMALL SAMPLING OF THE MISS CALIFORNIA USA CONTESTANTS

I bet you’re just dying to know what happened! Well, they didn’t place. Womp womp. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still awesome!

More than 400 women ran for Miss California USA and Miss California Teen USA, so they had some stiff competition. Miss Hoag Hospital Natalie Pack won the crown over runner-up Miss Malibu Brie Gabrielle. Regardless of the crown winners, it seems that Thomas and Hutcherson were the real publicity winners for a pageant that would have been barely reported on otherwise. I read the Boston Globe every day and I don’t remember the Miss Massachusetts USA winners ever being so widely announced.

Though pageants are traditionally conservative and Miss USA owner Donald Trump supported Miss California USA 2009 Carrie Prejean’s anti-equality comments, the Miss California USA 2012 pageant seemed to have been overwhelmingly supportive of the two women. Keith Lewis, co-executive of the contest and an executive producer of the 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, reportedly said that this year’s pageant “will emphasize individuality and push the envelope even further.” Lewis went on to say, “This year’s event will be bigger and reflect the progressive attitudes of the contestants.” Hutcherson spoke to Autostraddle about her experiences where she explained, “I… was shown only support and love from every participant I met.”

Though many news agencies were quick to label Thomas or Hutcherson “the first” out lesbian to run for Miss California USA (probably whichever one they heard about first) I think it’s way more effective to have two out women running. Being an out gay woman should not be a singular novelty. Additionally, it’s a start in terms of addressing the flawed thinking every queer woman looks, acts or dresses the same way. I think it’s equally powerful that Thomas’s swimsuit and gown were “traditional” pageantwear while Hutcherson wore 1930′s inspired swimwear and a tuxedo. Both women were able to dress true to themselves without worrying about setting the standard for how lesbians “should” dress in pageants.

It’s clear to me that both Thomas and Hutcherson participated in Miss California USA on their own terms, but I recognize that many still question anyone’s participation in a beauty pageant. Yet, these two participants’ experiences seem to have been overwhelmingly positive. “I realized a lot of these girls go in to pageants vulnerable and leave empowered,” Hutcherson told Autostraddle, “I feel like I’ve been upgraded opposed to degraded… I am so inspired by all the support and love through this journey and it’s only just begun. Who would have thought that being yourself was all it took to empower and inspire others?!”

As for the future, it’s hard to know how the two will use their newfound fame. Thomas, who is 19 and still a part-time student at UCLA, is planning on competing again next year. I, for one, am totally rooting for her. As for Hutcherson, she’s imaging big things for herself in the LGBTQ community. “I feel I have grown into myself further as an advocate and mentor for the LGBTQ community,” she said, “My next project is to look into tuxedo branding– my own reincarnated tux designs custom made and auctioned for a charity focused on the youth– all youth.” One thing seems certain; we haven’t seen the last of either of these inspiring women.

Continue to watch Thomas’s and Hucherson’s Facebook pages for updates on their future plans and pageant careers.

Avatar of Lizz

Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 267 articles for us.

22 Comments

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    Yay! I’m not a fan of beauty pageants but still, it’s good to have progress wherever we can. Hopefully they’ll educate the Carrie Prejeans of the world…

    (And I was trying to sneak the phrase “opposite marriage” into that statement but, clearly, I failed.)

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    did you notice? all the close ups of thomas’s heels, her FINGERNAILS, and all the shots of her glossing her lips?? it was like to emphasize the apparent incongruity of her appearance with her sexuality. whereas the more “butch” woman was hardly featured for this news segment because she apparently fulfills some kind of stereotype the rest of the world has of lesbians anyway. wow.

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    What I’ve gathered from all the press surrounding this is: it’s okay to make fun of beauty pageant contestants for being ‘dumb’ and ‘only good for looking good’ and have a go at them for entering a contest that’s all about looks when the contestants are straight… but if they’re gay, they’re intelligent, inspiring and ground-breaking.

    (I’m in no way accusing Autostraddle of doing this, since I don’t recall any of the writers saying overly bitchy things about pageant contestants. But a lot of people are being very inconsistent with their treatment of the contestants.)

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    I hate to say it, but I’m almost insulted by this whole situation. Here’s why. Any time attention is publicly drawn to someone’s sexual orientation, it runs the risk of making them into a mere curiosity. After all, how likely is it that these 2 ladies (who I totally applaud and support) are actually the first lesbian beauty contestants? Nope, they are just the first “out” ladies we know about…and this has placed them on the pedestal of attempting the represent all the lgbt community. Any time we are not permitted to be just “people” but instead must represent an entire community it does us all a disservice.

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      I don’t disagree with you but I feel like part of this is because of a lack of visibility. Most people don’t know that they probably actually know some one who is queer. I don’t think it’s the queers who are putting the handful of out GLBTQ people on pedestals but the media who have access to SO FEW out queers, you know?

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      I get where both of you are coming from. The narrator’s dialogue is all about their identities as lesbians, while Mollie and Jenelle’s actual interview responses are all pretty standard and relatable – be true to yourself, I did this to make myself happy, I was nervous about wearing a swim suit and showing my tattoos, etc.

      When the narrator says “Carrie Prejean made headlines when she spoke out against same sex marriage, while Thomas and Hutcherson wanted to say just the opposite,” Mollie and Jenelle don’t actually say anything about same sex marriage, or even being gay. They talk about being true to themselves, being good role models, etc. Pretty universal messages.

      What I mean is…I’d have been proud of these two women if they made the interview about being out lesbians in a pageant, but I’m equally proud of them for responding to the questions as multi-dimensional individuals who are lesbians AND more than “just lesbians.” It’s got to be so hard to be a queer woman in the spotlight with the media’s tendency to stereotype and simplify. Good job to them for taking on the challenge. Perfect example of YOU DO YOU in action.

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    They are probably not the first lesbians to compete in a beauty paegant but they are the first to compete as out lesbians. Maybe if everyone that is gay was out, we would stop having “the first lesbian to…” or the ” the first gay man to do ….”. At least these girls had the courage to compete as proud lesbian women not just women. And just for that, we should be proud of them. I know I am. As for hutcherson She could have put on a dress, but she didn’t, and that is AWESOME! We had a femme and a butch representing us, how freaking awesome was that?

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