The 21-year-old Swe Zin Htet is Myanmar's entry to the Miss Universe pageant, which will take place on December 8 in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the 68th edition of the international beauty pageant.
'It's like I just started a new chapter in my life'
Htet revealed about her sexuality to the world on November 29, on the beauty blog Missosology, thus becoming the first openly gay contestant in the Miss Universe pageant. The 21-year-old told the PEOPLE magazine that she timed her revelation to coincide with the pageant.
"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 [Myanmar is also called Burma]", she told PEOPLE. "It's like I just started a new chapter in life," she said.
Talking about, when she first felt same-sex attraction, Htet said it was when she was 15 or 16 years old. Being okay with it, even to herself, was "kind of difficult," she says, "but after a period of time I felt I was a lesbian and kind of accepted it."
The 21-year-old opened up about it to her parents, five years ago, who at first "were mad" and didn't accept her. "But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me", Htet said. She has been in a three-year relationship with the famous Burmese singer Gae Gae, whom she met at a party. "Not a lot of people know about it," she tells PEOPLE.
Homosexuality: a punishable offence in Myanmar
Speaking about LGBTQ rights, back home, Htet said, "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". Homosexuality carries a minimum prison term of 10 years, that could be extended to life, according to the Burmese law.
"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", the 21-year-old said. "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".
Though supporting LGBTQ rights back home, she chose the issue of preventing child abuse as the cause she advocates-on her Miss Universe bio.