Miss Missouri's Groundbreaking Role Is Subject of New Documentary, Crowning Change


  • David Pickering Photography
When Erin O'Flaherty was crowned Miss Missouri 2016, the media swarm wasn't yet buzzing. In fact, the first public mention that O'Flaherty was gay — that she was, in fact, the first openly gay Miss America contestant in the pageant's history — was a blog post on riverfronttimes.com.

But that brief story set off fireworks. CNN and Good Morning America profiled the newly crowned pageant winner, as did Cosmopolitan and the New York Times. A story in USA Today earned a staggering 6,700 Facebook shares. And, yeah, a flood of hate-filled comments followed.

Filmmaker Lexy Kadey was there to capture O'Flaherty's wild ride — from the winner of a pageant that in recent years has earned little buzz to a national media darling. And she gained access through the most charming met-cute story: Kadey actually competed against O'Flaherty for the Miss Missouri title.

"We met because she totally beat me," Kadey says, laughing. "But then her story took off like wildfire, and I found myself thinking, 'Somebody needs to be filming this.'"

And so Kadey did. A film student at Lindenwood University, the native of Springfield, Missouri, chronicled O'Flaherty's life for nearly four months as director and producer of Crowning Change: The Erin O'Flaherty Story. Shooting is entirely finished, though Kadey is now counting on a Kickstarter to help her bring it across the finish line. She's seeking to raise $7,500.

Kadey notes that she worked with an all-female crew (with one exception: the sound guy). The film was a labor of love, but one they're hoping will now find a large audience.

And the narrative isn't just one of pretty pageant gowns and public acclaim. As a college student in Florida, O'Flaherty had been a regular at Pulse nightclub — and found herself competing at Miss America just after the deadly shooting there. After she found herself in the media spotlight, too, she endured hate mail and even death threats.

"Erin was shocked at first that it was even a headline," says Kadey, who describes O'Flaherty as an introvert. "She wasn't even sure why it was a national story. But she handled it, and she decided, 'I need to use my story to be proud of who I am.'" Now the women hope their documentary will tell the story of what happened after O'Flaherty's story went viral.

For more on Crowning Change, check out its Kickstarter.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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