Erin O'Flaherty, who was crowned Miss Missouri in June, talks coming out and her commitment to suicide prevention in a new interview with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBT rights advocate.

O'Flaherty said that coming out was a slow process which changed her life for the better.

“My coming out was very slow, in my mind,” O'Flaherty said. “I never had an 'aha!' moment that propelled me out of the closet. It took living through my teenage years filled with confusion and struggle to slowly realize and admit to myself that I was gay. Once I accepted it for myself, my coming out just felt natural from there. There is no denying that coming out is nothing less than awkward. For some, it is even filled with hatred and bullying from peers and, in some cases, strangers. However, I can't imagine living my life without being open about who I am. It has changed my life and outlook for the better in every way. It is the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was by far the most rewarding, as well.”

Elsewhere in the interview, O'Flaherty talked about her platform of suicide prevention.

“My initial commitment to suicide prevention began after I lost one of my best friends to suicide when I was 13,” she said. “As I navigated the grieving process, I learned that there were warning signs and risk factors associated with an individual contemplating suicide. I wondered what might have been if I had been educated beforehand. Would I have been able to save my friend?”

“Losing a loved one to suicide is so tragic – there is not much closure, if any. It became therapeutic for me to spread the word that suicide can be prevented. Initially, I became familiar with the QPR Institute and the AFSP [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention]. I learned so much from the educational resources that they provide. As I struggled with my own sexuality and eventually coming out, I found my passion in The Trevor Project – suicide prevention dedicated to the LGBT community,” O'Flaherty added.