The Miss Montana USA pageant welcomed its first-ever openly transgender contestant on Sunday.
The contestant, Anita Green, a 26-year-old from Missoula, is no stranger to making history. In 2016, she broke down barriers by becoming the first transgender delegate from Montana after being elected to cast her vote for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention.
Green, who works with adults with disabilities and also serves as an executive board member for the Missoula County Democrats, says she entered the pageant to challenge herself in a new way while also uplifting the trans community.
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“I thought about it for a couple of years but I just wasn’t sure I was ready for it,” Green told Mic. “But I can definitely tell you that when Trump was elected into office, I knew that I needed to step up and do this. I was so nervous about this but I knew that I needed to compete. I wanted to be a positive role model in the community and instill a sense of hope within the trans community and give them some positive news.”
Kylan Arianna Wenzel is the only other trans woman to have competed for Miss USA at the state level, as a contestant in California in 2013. Ironically, Wenzel made headlines for competing after Donald Trump, who at the time owned the Miss Universe Organization that oversees Miss USA, got rid of the rule barring trans contestants.
In May, Janet Mock became the first-ever transgender judge in the national Miss USA pageant’s 65-year history.
Despite that progress, Green shared that she was fully prepared for the likelihood that she’d be harassed for competing.
“We need people to be strong. We need people who do have the thick skin, who can take that backlash to stand up and speak on behalf of us,” she told Mic. “We need positive role models and hopeful stories, and I want to be someone who is part of that hopeful story.”
She added that the reception she got from the 19 other contestants was so welcoming it actually caught her off guard.
“In getting prepared for this pageant, I wasn’t really surprised by anything other than how accepting the girls have been so far,” she said. “I didn’t think people would be because this is Montana and we are a conservative state, but I think that’s starting to change.”
While Green didn’t win the competition on Sunday, she’s still hopeful that just entering helped her message be heard.
“I hope that competing inspires other transgender people to feel confident in themselves, she told People, “and to feel comfortable to be who they are and not be ashamed of their transgender status.”