Story at a glance
- Swe Zin Htet is Miss Myanmar 2019.
- The 21-year-old pageant contestant came out just ten days before the Miss Universe 2019 competition.
- She represents Myanmar, a country where same-sex sexual activity is illegal and same-sex marriages are not recognized.
Swe Zin Htet didn’t take the title of Miss Universe 2019 on Sunday, but she claimed another one. The 21-year-old Miss Myanmar 2019 is the first openly lesbian Miss Universe pageant contestant.
Htet came out just ten days earlier on beauty blog Missology, telling them "I came to a full realization about my sexual orientation over a long period of time. I knew I was [part of the LGBTQ] way back in 2015.”
She told People the timing was deliberate. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Myanmar, and LGBTQ people have little to no legal protections from discrimination.
“I have that platform that, if I say that I’m a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma,” she told People through a translator. “The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted. They are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.”
According to a review of LGBTQ rights by the Myanmar Times, same-sex sexual acts can be punished by sentences of ten years or more. Another law prohibits "the donning of a disguise during the nighttime hours" and "is allegedly habitually used by the police to arrest and brutalise trans women." But the review also adds that the culture is changing, if slowly.
‘A new chapter in life’
Nicknamed "Superman" by some of her fans, Htet became Miss Myanmar this year in the country's seventh Miss Universe Myanmar pageant. Growing up in rural Magwe, a state known for growing sesame and other nuts, she gained popularity in the pageant world at 16.
It was at that same time that she told People she first began exploring her sexuality, saying it was “kind of difficult...but after a period of time I felt I was a lesbian and kind of accepted it.”
She came out to her parents five years ago.
“At first, they were mad. They didn’t accept me,” she told People. “But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me.”
According to People, Htet has been in a relationship with the famous Burmese singer Gae Gae, whom she met at a party, for three years. On the day Missology published their story about her, she posted a collage on Instagram including photos with her girlfriend, a rainbow flag and the word “proud.”
“It’s like I just started a new chapter in life,” she told People.
Fans and other Miss Universe contestants have been sharing their support online as well.
In an email, Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, told People, “We are honored to give a platform to strong, inspirational women like Miss Universe Myanmar, who are brave enough to share their unique stories with the world. Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are.”