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Openly gay Miss California USA contestants make history

January 9, 2012 |  8:33 am

Jenelle HutchersonTwo contestants in the Miss California USA competition over the weekend may not have taken home the crown or topped the ranks but they left with a significant place in the competition's history.

Jenelle Hutcherson, 26, of Long Beach, and Mollie Thomas, 19, of West Hollywood, were the first openly gay contestants in the 60 years of the state pageant, whose winner will go on to compete in Miss USA, the national pageant.

More than 400 women vied for the title of Miss California USA and Miss California Teen USA, compared with 378 participants from last year, organizers say.

Natalie Pack, a 22-year-old who competed as Miss Hoag Hospital, was awarded the crown Sunday in Palm Desert, the Desert Sun reported. Miss Malibu, Brie Gabrielle, was the runner-up.

The state pageant encouraged "individuality" and urged contestants to "push the envelope even further," Keith Lewis, co-executive of the contest, said in a statement.

For Thomas, a part-time UCLA student, this was her first time in a pageant. She agreed to compete because it allowed her to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in a positive way, she said.

"I'm running for equality and will use this in order to promote visibility on current issues, to become a youth advocate and a role model," Thomas said in an interview before the competition.


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-- Ruben Vives

Photo: Jenelle Hutcherson. Credit: Benizo Photography