Miss Missouri Erin O’Flaherty is preparing to take the stage on Sunday as Miss America’s first openly gay contestant.

“Being able to represent Miss America as a gay woman would mean a lot to me, because I really feel a responsibility to make the LGBT community proud, and make history and break another ceiling for a minority group,” the 23-year-old told PEOPLE.

Although the Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions had gay contestants in the past, O’Flaherty is the first to come out before winning a state title, according to the New York Magazine.

“It was really hard. But ultimately I knew I had to do it,” she told USA TODAY.

O’Flaherty came out at the age of 18 and her family was “absolutely nothing but supportive.”

“So my coming out was actually much easier than millions of people,” she added.

In addition, the contestant also received the LGBT community’s support.

“The response has been incredible,” O’Flaherty said to PEOPLE. “It was overwhelming at first because I never expected it to be national news. The LGBT community has gotten completely behind me. I get messages every day, words of encouragement from total strangers, thanking me just for being visible in this capacity.”

Likewise, the Chief Operating Officer of Miss America Josh Randle is proud to have her as a contestant.

“Through every major milestone of our nation’s evolution, Miss America has provided a voice for women from all walks of life, and, this year, we welcome our first openly gay contestant,” he said, according to Fox News.

However, O’Flaherty hopes her legacy will transcend her sexual orientation if she wins.

“I really want people to know I’m not one-dimensional, I’ll be an incredible Miss America, I’ll promote Children’s Miracle Network, I’ll promote suicide prevention. Whether I’m Miss America or not, I’ll continue to do that,” she said, according to USA TODAY.

The competition will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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