LGBTQ students raise awareness through UCF pageants

By : Anna M. Johnson
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ORLANDO – Haley Zilberberg and Stanley Swindling are two University of Central Florida students that identify as lesbian and gay, respectively. They’re also two UCF students that competed in the Mr. and Miss UCF Scholarship pageant Feb. 3 and 4. Swindling won first runner up and fan favorite and Zilberberg won best talent.

This pageant was the two college seniors’ first ever. They both rehearsed for over four months to compete in the shows, with no guarantee of any prizes.

Zilberberg is a social-work major set to graduate in May. Her decision to participate stemmed from her platform, advocacy and awareness for individuals with invisible disabilities. Her spoken-word poetry that won her the best talent award is about her life with such disabilities.

“To be a person on stage that has an invisible disability and that has health issues is important,” Zilberberg said. “It makes it easier for other people to talk about it and to be proud of whom they are, even if they have physical limitations.”

Swindling’s platform is diversity and inclusivity in sex education, especially as it pertains to the LGBTQ community. The film major thinks that his passion for the stance translated well into representing it on stage and making it more known to the student body.

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The Mr. and Miss UCF Pageant is hosted by the UCF College Activities Board, which is a subdivision of the Office of Student Involvement. All of the award winners receive scholarships from CAB or from the UCF Alumni Association. Zilberberg won $250 and Swindling won a combined total of $1400.

Though the pageant is not set up to allow contestants to speak about theirplatforms at length on stage, they did have private interviews with the judges that accounted for a fourth of their final scores. These interviews were the main opportunities for the contestants to have discussions about the causes that they chose to support.

Swindling stressed the necessity for representation and education for children in the LGBT community.

“When I was growing up, there weren’t really a lot of LGBT celebrities or characters in the media that were anything beyond one-dimensional stereotypes by often straight screenwriters,” he said. “They kind of conformed to what the media expected them to be.”

Coming out of the closet in high school was crucial to how Swindling understood himself as a person. He attributes his courage to be able to compete in a pageant to how it emboldened him. This comfort with being himself is what directly inspired his platform.

“Being comfortable with being in love and being sexual and not being ashamed of it is so important, and it is so important that we teach out LGBT youth that lesson,” Swindling said.

He thinks that more thorough sex education can also benefit heterosexual couples that are trying more untraditional sex acts.

“That’s the great part about it. It will help everyone,” Swindling said.

Zilberbergvolunteers with the Invisible Disability Project in her spare time and is currently working on producing a video to be featured on their website. Her girlfriend of two-and-a-half years has supported her during the beginning application process for the pageant through the show night.

A college-level pageant provided a vehicle for these two students with passion to advocate for their causes. Both students intend to continue promoting inclusivity for all types of people as they leave school and continue into the “real” world – a world that Swindling thinks desperately needs everyone to speak up for what they believe in.

“In a time when partisanship is dividing the country and it can be dangerous to be political, more people are seeing how powerful their voices have become,” he said. “They’re using their voices in positive ways to protect human rights.”

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