01/06/2012 08:50 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

First Openly Gay Woman Competes for Miss California

Fewer things are more all-American than the Super Bowl, Fourth of July parades, and Miss America. Most of us grew up watching as these gorgeous women teetered on stage in conservative swimsuits and dazzling evening gowns. I clearly recall the interview portion, which is where you hear the contestants espouse their views about starving children or literacy or some other safe cause. I never thought I'd see the day a lesbian was in the ranks talking about human rights, marriage equality, and gay teen suicide... until Mollie Thomas.

Thomas' announcement of her intention to run for Miss California in this weekend's pageant stirs a very sacred pot. Pageants are typically reserved for the proper, the straight, and the narrow. She is anything but. The spirited 19-year-old was raised both on a horse farm in Pennsylvania and in Manhattan by an American mother and a French father. She doesn't recall an official coming out, saying her family has always been aware, supportive, and progressive. Thomas says, "My family is so open and accepting that I knew very young who I was and who I loved."

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Mollie Thomas

Growing up with a father in the travel industry, Thomas saw the world with her family and lived in Switzerland for the majority of last year. She also spent time in Thailand working on an elephant reserve and says, "The Thai people are amazing, and the culture is beautiful." She recently relocated to West Hollywood and names The Abbey as her favorite restaurant stop. She is currently taking classes part-time at UCLA, with aspirations toward political science or gender studies.

When asked about her fears about the pageant (think falling in high heels, getting stumped on a question, or any number of other possible nightmares), Thomas pauses and says, "I don't have any. Initially I wondered if the organizers and other contestants would accept or ostracize me, but I've been fine." Her ultimate goal in running is twofold: she strives to raise visibility in the community and beyond while becoming a positive role model; secondly, she plans to parlay this exposure into new adventures. Thomas cites a strong desire to work with youth and give back the LGBT community.

In preparation for the pageant, Thomas hikes Hollywood's Runyon Canyon daily and has been hitting the gym hard. A dancer with 13 years of training in ballet, jazz, modern dance, point, and tap dance, Thomas also knows how to firm up by moving on the dance floor.

Thomas reached out to apparel giant Max Azria for her gown and is promoting Lyon Jewelry, her roommate's new line, for her earrings, ring, and equality bracelet. Thomas recently watched the Miss New Hampshire pageant to get a flavor of the pace of the show. She hopes they do throw a curveball, saying, "I'm ready for just about anything."

I asked Thomas a series of quick questions, and her answers are below:

  • Favorite body part on a girl? "Lower back."
  • Coffee or tea? "Tea."
  • Beach or mountains? "Mountains."
  • Heels or flip-flops? "Flip-flops."
  • Where do you get your news? "Reuters."
  • East Village or West? "East."
  • Your signature cocktail? "Water."
  • Cook at home or hit the town? "Cook."
  • Favorite charity? "HRC."
  • Lady Gaga or Indigo Girls? "Indigo Girls."
  • Favorite flick? "Across the Universe." (Thomas actually has two verses from the Beatles' song tattooed on her ribcage.)

Support Mollie Thomas online or find out more about Miss California, which runs Jan. 6-8, 2012.