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Miss Universe Celebrates Its First Openly Gay Contestant – From A Country Where Homosexuality Is Criminalised

Twenty-year-old Swe Zin Htet competed as Miss Myanmar at the event on Sunday night in Atlanta, Georgia.

Though she failed to advance to the top 20, fans say she has already made history by representing the LGBTQ community on a global stage.

Htet, also known to fans as "Superman," reportedly came out as gay in an interview posted on a pageant forum, Missosology, shortly after she arrived in Atlanta for the competition.

"I want the world to accept the LGBTQ+ community and their right to choose their own path and pursuit of happiness," she is quoted as saying. "We should always have the freedom of choice and promote equality."

“Love is the basic thing,” she says, adding: “It’s more about loving each another person, no matter who that person is. It’s coming from the heart.”

The following day, she posted a photo collage on Instagram that was overlaid with a rainbow flag and the word "Proud."

Htet's coming out is all the more striking given that a colonial-era section of Myanmar's penal code allows for courts to punish gay relationships with lengthy prison sentences.

The law, although not widely enforced, illustrates the social tone – LGBTQ+ people in Myanmar still face a greater frequency of arrests, and those who do not conform to traditional gender ideas are often shunned.

Social prejudices remain strong, with many LGBTQ+ people facing domestic abuse and violence, as well as discrimination in the workplace.

Still, there has been more freedom of expression for LGBTQ people in recent years, with public events, parties and advocacy “making some headway against the ‘old ways,’ ” the Myanmar Times reported.

Anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes are commonplace in Southeast Asian countries like Brunei, which nearly imposed a death penalty for gay sex in May, and Singapore, where sex between men is punishable by jail time.

However, Htet's coming out was met with a flood of support from fans both in Myanmar and across the world.

The Miss Universe Organisation also expressed its support.

"We are honoured to give a platform to strong, inspirational women like Miss Universe Myanmar, who are brave enough to share their unique stories with the world," the group's president, Paula Shugart, said in a statement.

"Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are."

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