Miss South Africa won the Miss Universe crown, but it was also a win for the pageant's first openly gay contestant

Swe Zin Htet (far left) is the first openly gay contestant to appear in the Miss Universe pageant [Photo: Getty]

This year’s Miss Universe pageant has included the first openly gay contestant in the competition’s 67-year history.

Swe Zin Htet is the reigning Miss Myanmar, also known as Burma, and the contestant came out publicly just a week before taking part in the final of the pageant on Sunday.

The finalist was praised for her bravery in opening up about her sexuality particularly considering homosexuality is illegal in her home country.

The 21-year-old finalist said she hoped the timing of her coming out would throw a light on the LGBTQ back home.

“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,” she told People.

“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.”

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The Miss Universe pageant and others like it often face criticism for a lack of diversity among contestants, but in recent years things seem to be changing.

Last year, Miss Universe featured its first-ever trans contestant Angela Ponce.

Although she narrowly missed out on coming in the top 20 contestants, she told viewers she didn’t care about winning as long as she was able to compete.

She said: “My hope is for tomorrow to be able to live in a world of equality for everyone, simply for us all to understand that we are human and we must make all our lives easier together.

“If I can give that to the world, I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.”

Commenting on the inclusion of the competition’s first openly gay contestant Paula Shugart, Miss Universe president, also told People: “We are honoured to give a platform to strong, inspirational women like Miss Universe Myanmar, who are brave enough to share their unique stories with the world.

“Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are.”

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The overall competition was actually won by Zozibini Tunzi, Miss South Africa, who was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday night.

She also used the competition’s platform to open up about diversity and representation in the pageant industry.

“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me — with my kind of skin and my kind of hair — was never considered to be beautiful,” she told the audience.

“I think it is time that that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”

After failing to progress in the competition, Htet headed to Facebook to issue an apology of fans, which was flooded with messages of support.  

“You made us proud! Well done,” one user wrote.

“You're always winner in our hearts,” another commented.