MANILA, Philippines – In all the excitement surrounding this year's Miss Universe pageant, there are a handful of candidates who are only making waves now for reasons that go beyond their performances at the yearly beauty pageant.
Meet Swe Zin Htet, Myanmar's representative to the Miss Universe 2019 pageant, who also happens to be an out and proud lesbian.
In a November interview with pageant website Missosology, she talked about speaking up for the LGBTQ+ community and advocating for their rights, despite – and especially because of – the situation in her home country Myanmar.
"I believe that not all countries allow same-sex marriage. I want the world to accept the LGBTQ+ community and their right to choose their own path and pursuit of happiness. Love is the most powerful thing and people fall in love with human beings, not gender. We should always have the freedom of choice and promote equality," she said.
Being gay in Myanmar is punishable by law. According to the Myanmar Times report, the country "scores very poorly on international LGBT rights indicators."
Upon her arrival in Atlanta, Swe Zin told People that she decided to come out to inspire the LGBTQ+ community in Myanmar.
“The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted," she said. "They are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.”
She said that her parents initially reacted with anger when she came out. But they later came to embrace who she is as they learned more about the LGBTQ+ community.
In November, Swe Zin posted a photo with the rainbow flag emoji and the word "proud."
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Superman (@swe_zin_htet) on Nov 29, 2019 at 10:41am PST
Although Swe Zin failed to make it to the Top 20, her impact is palpable. Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization told People through email: "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.”
According to the Missosology article, fans had dubbed Swe Zin "Superman" because she has been "actively making waves" in the pageant world since she was 16. She joined Miss Golden Land Myanmar in 2016 and Miss Supranational 2016, where she made it to the Top 10.