Guest Blogger

Overlooked in the Miss USA Flap

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 27, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Carrie Prejean, gay marriage, media attention, Miss California, Miss USA, Perez Hilton

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Ben Finzel is a Washington D.C.-based public relations professional. A former Congressional staffer and Clinton Administration appointee, his career has focused on public affairs, public education campaigns and media relations.

ben-finzel.jpgBy now, you've likely heard or read about the latest example of the way the conversation about equal marriage rights has become part of the national dialogue. Blogger Perez Hilton asked Miss California USA (one of the top five contestants in the Miss USA pageant) her views on gay marriage. Miss California's answer - that she believes "marriage should be between a man and a woman" - sparked a media firestorm that likely gave the Miss USA Pageant more media attention than it ever would have earned otherwise (I wasn't even aware the pageant was taking place prior to this incident).

Hilton's response to Miss California's answer and his follow-up to that response sparked equally intense coverage, disappointment, outrage and commentary from every corner - including in the gay community.

But almost overlooked in this story is the reaction of the Miss California USA organization.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it in their story, "The directors of the Miss California pageant condemned her answer on Monday morning." Here's the detail from the story:

"As co-executive director of Miss CA USA and one of the leaders of the Miss CA family, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman," wrote Keith Lewis on Hilton's blog. "Although I believe all religions should be able to ordain what unions they see fit, I do not believe our government should be able to discriminate against anyone. Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family."

You could stereotypically assume that beauty pageants are uber gay-friendly given their reliance on so many of us for support and involvement, but would you ever have thought that a beauty pageant organization would be so forthright in affirming full marriage rights for everyone? I wouldn't have before today. And to me, this response is exactly the kind of subtle, but ultimately dramatic, shift that demonstrates that public perception around equal marriage rights might actually be changing.

Why didn't more media outlets pick up on this element of the story? Miss California's attempt to blame reaction to her answer for her second-place finish and Hilton's over-the-top response stole much, if not all, of the media thunder, making it difficult for any other elements of the story (like Lewis' comment) to see the light of the day. Miss California USA and Perez Hilton talked with Larry King as part of CNN's extensive coverage of this incident.

But once the immediate interest fades, I wonder it if isn't Lewis' comment that will have the longer-term impact on both communications and coverage of marriage issues. That an organization which relies on largely conservative, so-called "mainstream" viewers for funding and ratings success would feel comfortable stating a position assumed to be contrary to what many of those viewers might believe is a huge change.

We've talked here before about the range of California companies that opposed Prop. 8 and bankrolled efforts to defeat that anti-gay initiative. Perhaps Lewis' statement is just a reflection of the state his organization serves. I'm betting it's more likely a reflection of the changes taking place across the country. And I'm guessing we'll see more statements like this - and more media coverage - in the future.

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So... we should all be cheering wildly because the co-director of a sexist beauty pageant that judges women entirely on their looks, believes in gay marriage, a heteronormative patriarchal structure that judges people entirely by their ability to live by the dictates of the state.

YAY for us!

Yasmin, while I am certainly no fan of beauty pageants be they for women or men (a little reminder here that not just women are judged in contests in this way) I would point out here that the source of her trouble was not about looks and in being judged on her attitude she failed in the eyes of many. Her intellect was also called into question when she started her answer with "in my country".
While I agree with the sentiment I can't agree with the statement describing the situation as being merely a judgment on looks.


My point was about beauty pageants in general, and not about "the source of her trouble," so let me clarify that. I was pointing out the irony in the fact that some of us are thrilled about a beauty pageant director/co-director supporting gay marriage -- when both institutions (beauty pageants and marriage) are, in my view, sexist and patriarchal.

And before someone else goes on to defend beauty pageants for validating brains by offering money for scholarships, or that pageant winners aren't all brainless - please give it a rest. I was named for a beauty pageant winner - Yasmin Ali, 1966 (?) (I forget if she was a Miss World or something...). I believe she went on to be a doctor and today lives in NYC.

This drips with irony.

Ahh yes the neo-christian colonial enlightenment value of arbitrarily placing intellect before aesthetics.

True facts, desiring to project artistic personal adornment is patriarchial par excellence. *rolls eyes*

Overlooking the bitterness, jadedness and judgement that Yasmin seems to ooze.

Lets hope that his words are what is remembered. As for why no major media outlets picked up on it, nothing satyrical in that storyline.

Relax, Matt. Yasmin is just as entitled to her opinion as you are yours - and she didn't have to make personal remarks about anyone to prove hers... She's correct in her point that beauty pageants are sexist relics of the days when women were judged like horses at the fair.

As to the post topic itself, it IS a good thing that the pageant organizers are speaking out. It was also good that Google and other California companies made a stand on Prop 8 as well. The more the merrier. I may not be Jewish, but I appreciate the solidarity of the Jews on LGBT rights. I may not think Microsoft is the best company in the world, but I appreciate their support as well. You just have to look at it as the glass is half full instead of half empty.

I think that when the dust has settled, we're going to see that there are no winners here.

Except for Miss North Carolina.

Something no one is even talking about in this back and forth about beauty pageants: How come we don't have a Mr. America contest wherein the participants have to show off their packages in a Speedo, a tuxedo and also answer kinda dumb questions by kinda dumb star-fucker-wanna-be celebrities?

Are beauty pageants outdated, moronic and sexist? YES. That they allow women to "earn" money for college is a stupid reason for their existence, as if we are getting a consolation prize for being pushed down in the first place.