It's some kind of miracle how comfortable Analouisa Valencia — a lesbian African-American/Latina beauty queen — is in her skin. Currently Miss Lyman, S.C., Valencia travels to the state capitol in July to compete in the Miss South Carolina contest and, hopefully, advance to the Miss America pageant. Valencia isn't coming out per se, because the 19-year-old college student has been out for years; she took her girlfriend, Tamyra Bell, to her prom and attended Bell's. But Valencia is ready to tell the world her story and remains optimistic the judges in Columbia will see her like so many already do: as a role model. The teen was candid in a recent interview with The Advocate, talking excitedly about her future and the women who inspire her.
The Advocate: How did you get involved in beauty pageants?
Analouisa Valencia: I’m from Spartanburg, S.C. and I started pageantry when I was Miss South Carolina Princess for Miss Spartanburg 2000. After that, I decided I wanted to be in pageants when I got older. So, when I got old enough I started to compete.
When did you come out?
Oh, wow. And you went to public school in South Carolina?
How was that received?
My teachers were ok with it. My mom at first said, "Well, I don’t support it, but I love you so I’ll support you." She’s ok with it now, but it's been a couple of years. My dad at first was very, very, very furious. I think it took him a good three weeks to finally accept the fact that I was just going to be who I was and be proud of it. My teachers were very supportive.
How would you describe the pageant circuit in South Carolina? Is it welcoming to LGBT people?
Well, I had one question during an interview that was, How would you feel about having a lesbian Miss South Carolina? I said, "I don’t think her sexuality has anything to do with it. It doesn’t define her as a person, because she’s still going to be a good human being." Miss South Carolina should be a great role model, but her sexual orientation shouldn’t define her as a person. And it shouldn’t define her getting a crown. I do have friends in the pageant circuit that are accepting of gay people and I find that it has given me a lot of support and a lot of extra push.
Since you came out, do things feel different in South Carolina? Do they feel more welcoming?
In certain parts it's a little bit more welcoming. There are certain organizations and certain people and certain areas that aren’t so welcoming of [gay people], so I guess we’re still getting there. Very slowly but surely.
Do you think people can't reconcile a beauty queen with the word "lesbian"?
That is kind of true, but at the same time I’m not thinking about that so much because I have people who are supportive. But I think it does play a part, a small part in me not having hadn’t won in local pageants because some judges knew.
You have such a positive attitude. Where does that come from?
I’ve experienced a lot of things in life. A lot of negativity. I’ve seen a lot of people get bullied, so I try to be on the up side of things. Special Olympics South Carolina is my platform and I’ve been working with them since I was 8-years-old. And I’ve seen so much discrimination towards people with special needs, and I’m Hispanic and African-American and I’ve seen a lot of discrimination there, as well as with other minorities. So, I try to be an advocate for equality for everyone and be that positive role model. If I can't be that role model and be positive and comfortable in what I have to say then I shouldn’t have it as my platform.
Is there anyone you really admire?
I really admire my mother, as well as Bree Boyce. I love Bree because she’s made such a difference in South Carolina; she’s Miss South Carolina 2011. She made such a impact with her platform fighting obesity and she lost all that weight and really made a difference. She also sent me a message on Facebook telling me how proud she was of me. I was so humbled when she did that.
Are you nervous about coming out publicly? What if parents or churches call and say they don't want you in the pageant? How will you handle that?
Very calmly (chuckles). I’m a very positive person, so I always come back with positive feedback. I mean its not like every gay person is out to get you, or your daughter or your son or whoever you have as a relative. I'll just try and do my best and think positively.
Is there a special talent you have that will be featured at the pageant?
My talent is singing and I'll be performing "Footprints in the Sand" by Leona Lewis. I’m really excited because it’s a pretty big song and usually most people are used to hearing me sing jazz, because I love jazz and blues, but this is more contemporary; more pop, but really nice.
Is the pageant scene as cutthroat as it appears?
I don’t think so. I think it’s the way that you handle it as a contestant. If you are stressed about it, of course it’ll be stressful, but if you're having fun while you’re doing it, it's not. I can handle criticism very well, of course, because I’m a lesbian in the South. Whatever it is that I need to do to make myself better, I want to hear that from someone. I don’t want to hear it sugarcoated, I’d rather hear it straight up.
How do you handle pressure?
Since I was a gymnast most of my life, the pressure I was always under at competitions prepared me. I'm used to performing in front of a lot of people, so I take a deep breath before I go out and then when I'm out on the stage, I perform, and say what I have to say and I leave it on the stage. I don't go back and think about what I did, because then I'm over-thinking stuff.
Tell us about your girlfriend.
She just turned 20 last month, so I threw her a great birthday party. She’s really sweet, she’s very supportive. We used to not be as good place, but we are now. It took a lot to get there, so we’re doing a lot better. We've been together for almost three years; we met when I was in high school in my senior year and went to prom together.
How did people respond? Were they welcoming?
Oh yeah. In Spartanburg, I think we’re one of the most well-known couples. Everybody loves us, we don’t know why.
Will Tamyra be in Columbia with you in July?
Yes, she’s been so involved this year. Last night she actually stayed up till 1 a.m. designing a t-shirt for me. She went dress shopping with me Saturday. But she’s really blunt and really honest about stuff. We decided on my wardrobe, so I’m very happy with it. It’s amazing, I cant wait to wear it.
What do you hope to do after the pageant?
I'm in school at Spartanburg Community College and then I want to major in business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Also, I coach at my old gymnastics center, but I really want to open my own gym and train elite gymnasts, because there’s not an elite gym in South Carolina.
If you do win Miss South Carolina, what kind of prizes would you win?
The organization gives her an apartment to live in for that year. She also has a car sponsor so that allows her to drive a car for a year. And there's a college scholarship, which is I think $25,000. School is so expensive, even with a scholarship, it's still expensive. I’m really determined to open my own gym.
If you want to help Analouisa with her sponsorships or wish her well, she can be reached at facebook.com/analouisa.valencia.