Miss America gets under way today with an openly lesbian contestant for the first time in its 95-year history.

Erin O'Flaherty was crowned Miss Missouri in June, when she was also the first openly gay winner of that competition.

At the time she told reporters: "I don't know that I intended to be the first but I am, so I'm very excited about it."

Ms O'Flaherty, who owns a clothing shop in St Louis, came out five years ago, at the age of 18.

But, while her sexuality is "certainly a big part of who I am", she added: "Also there will be many appearances that I do that have nothing to do with that".

Instead, her main platform in the competition is suicide prevention.

Djuan Trent competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss Kentucky in 2011, finishing in the top 10, before coming out as a lesbian in 2014.

Patricia Yurena, who won Miss Spain twice and was runner-up in the 2013 Miss Universe, also announced in 2014 that she was gay.

The 2017 Miss America pageant begins in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, where it began in 1921.

Josh Randle, chief operating officer of the Miss America Organization, said the pageant reflects a changing America.

"Through every major milestone of our nation's evolution, Miss America has provided a voice for women from all walks of life, and, this year, we welcome our first openly gay contestant," he said.

"Miss America contestants continue to be the best and brightest in the country, and we proudly support each and every young woman who competes in our national programme."

Tuesday is the first of three nights of preliminary competitions that end on Thursday.

The winner will be crowned on Sunday night.