For centuries, beauty pageants have been used to not only emphasize the glitz and glamour of life but also to bring awareness to meaningful causes. Notably, this year’s competition is no exception.
The 2021 Miss Delaware USA Pageant features a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Kelly Smith. She is the second LGBTQ+ individual to be represented in the Miss USA pageant industry.
Last year, Smith—otherwise known as Kari Snow—held the title of Miss New Jersey in the Miss United States system and is now going for a title in the Miss USA system. She first started in pageants because she wants to represent the LGBTQ+ community and become the first bisexual Miss Delaware USA.
“I have always been a big fan of Miss Universe and Miss USA. It was always something I watched but I felt like I could never do it because I never saw anybody like me,” says Smith. “A big thing we do when we see pageant queens is relate to them in all different types of ways, and they were all straight. So, what motivated me was that if no one’s going to step up and represent us, how is this ever going to change?”
“There’s only been one other state USA contestant in the whole history of Miss USA, and it was Miss Utah USA 2020. She was the first queer representative to ever happen at the Miss USA stage,” she adds.
The pageant world can be a hard industry to partake in, especially for women going through it. It can be incredibly intimidating for a woman to enter that environment, but, for Smith, she’s been accepted with open arms since day one.
From the minute she walked through the door to the pageant world, she has openly outed herself to everyone, knowing it’s nerve-wracking to not know what their reactions will be. But each time she does a pageant, Smith is surrounded by an environment full of female empowerment and open support.
“When you’re queer and you don’t see other people like you, it can be very uncomfortable because it is such a vulnerable position to be in,” she says. “I have been so lucky, especially in Miss Delaware USA. I’ve met all my fellow competitors and title holders and they’ve all welcomed me with open arms and support my platform.”
The pageant industry has evolved throughout the years through its acceptance and representation of the LGBTQ+ community. Not only that, but Smith has been able to use her pageant platform, “Love Without Limits,” and her social media presence to bring equality and representation to the LGBTQ+ community.
She uses her voice and social media influence to help fellow LGBTQ+ members and self-help organizations as a certified domestic violence advocate. She hosts LGBTQ+ support groups and works with Voices Against Domestic Violence—an organization in New Jersey— to help victims feel safe and get back on their feet again.
“I was actually a domestic violence victim in 2017. I am bisexual and I was in a relationship with a male who would always make me feel insecure about it. He was always picking apart my sexuality. He was violent. It was a very abusive situation, but, luckily, I got out, he was arrested, and I got my life back,” says Smith. “Something I noticed through support groups was that whenever I tried to talk to or find anyone to relate to it was hard [and] no one else could really relate. So, when I became an advocate, I decided it would be a great idea to start a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals who all share their stores and heal together.”
Smith’s own experiences allow her to relate closely with others and use her influence in the pageant industry to help others.
The Miss Delaware USA pageant is available to stream live on June 27. Virtual tickets must be purchased before the event in order to watch the preliminaries and the finals.