Miss California Turmoil Continues: Runner-Up Poised to Claim Prejean’s Crown

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 8, 2009

The Miss California saga started as a serious and compelling drama about personal expression, equal rights, and the tone and tenor of public debate in contemporary America. But in recent days, the story has transformed into something less admirable.

Prejean won plaudits from the religious right and social conservatives, as well as liberals and GLBTS for taking a stand on principle under the glare of the spotlight: asked whether she thought states where marriage equality is not legal should follow the lead of then-most recent states to extend those rights to gay and lesbian families, Iowa and Vermont, Prejean replied that in her personal opinion, marriage rights should be offered exclusively to heterosexual couples.

What made the exchange all the more remarkable was that the question came during a nationally televised event, the Miss USA pageant, which took place April 19. Judge Perez Hilton, a celebrity gossip blogger, posed the question, and Prejean, who later said she'd been dreading such a query from the controversial blogger, stood tall under the glare of the spotlight and spoke her mind.

That might have been that, had Hilton not gone on to post a video blog in which he coarsely and needlessly insulted Prejean, calling her a "dumb bitch." Religious conservatives launched into action, latching onto the televised exchange and Hilton's subsequent video, and crying out that Prejean was being "persecuted" by gay and lesbian America for her Christian beliefs.

More measured debate also took place, with thoughtful reflection on both sides weighing the more nuanced aspects of the exchange. As Miss California, representing an entire state in the Miss USA pageant, was it Prejean's place to offer a personal opinion? On the other hand, why should Prejean have stifled her own faith-based viewpoint?

What might have turned into a teaching moment for thoughtful individuals of all political persuasions quickly devolved into an unsightly spectacle, with Prejean making talk show rounds and appearing at a press conference to talk not about the larger issues, but rather about her own personal courage and her status as a person allegedly being persecuted for her Christian faith, even as her employer, Miss California USA, publicly fretted that Prejean seemed to be unavailable to carry out the duties expected of her.

Prejean starred in an anti-gay commercial from Proposition 8 supporter the National Organization for Marriage, and appeared at a San Diego church, where she read from the Bible. Comparisons were drawn between Prejean and another beauty queen, the notoriously anti-gay Anita Bryant, who went on a national crusade against GLBT equality in the 1970s, calling gays "human garbage" and claiming that they posed a threat to children.

For some, the entire episode began to take on an unseemly cast. Then the Web site posted a photo of a topless Prejean, which Prejean, in a promptly issued statement, said had been taken when she was seventeen.

Prejean, who had signed a contract stating that she had "not been photographed nude or partially nude," argued that it's a model's job to pose in scanty clothing.

Prejean reportedly sent an email to Miss California USA co-director Keith Lewis about the first photo, reading, "This was when I was 17 years old. I was a minor. It was when I was first getting into the modeling world, being naive, and young."

Added the email, "I shouldnt [sic] have taken the photo of me in my underwear. There are no other photos of me. This was the only one I took."

Shortly after that, a second, similar photo appeared at the site, which the Prejean camp decried as a fake.

Then things took a surreal, almost comic turn: a press release purportedly from Vivid Entertainment Group, an adult film company, claimed that the company had extended a $1 million offer to Prejean to start in a film.

The release purported to contain a quote from the company's co-chairman, Steven Hirsch, reading, "We watched Carrie Prejean in the Miss USA Pageant and we were impressed with her talent and beauty."

The quote continued, "We're also aware of the controversy caused by her statement about same sex marriages and the topless photos of her that have appeared online."

Added the quote, "A movie with Vivid-Celeb could be an important step for her towards expanding her horizons."

The same day as the Vivid release, May 7, gossip site TMZ posted an article in which the site claimed to have viewed divorce papers related to the separation of Prejean's parents in which, the site claimed, "homosexual allegations [were] hurled by both sides."

TMZ reported that the documents contained claims that Prejean's mother had accused her father of being gay and of having a gay "roommate."

Other documents indicated that Prejean's father had made similar accusations against her mother's subsequent husband. Read the documents, "The mother also alleges the father told the girls their stepfather was gay, that all men with mustaches are gay."

In rebuttal, "The father acknowledges talking with the girls about the stepfather's brother being gay, not the stepfather," TMZ quoted from court papers.

TMZ quoted from what it said was a statement written by Prejean's sister in which a claim was made that the girls saw their father's roommate lying "in bed with another man."

Added that text, " I don't think it's right for my sister & I to have to live that way."

The TMZ article claimed, "For the record, there are other allegations--absolutely hideous--in the divorce and custody papers--which we have elected not to publish."

The emergence of the semi-nude photos appearing to be Prejean cast into doubt her continued status as Miss California, and speculation began to swirl that the first runner-up for the title, Tami Farrell, would inherit the crown.

In an Access Hollywood interview, Farrell declared herself ready to assume the title, saying, "I wouldn't have any trouble stepping in the spotlight."

Asked for her own opinion of the controversy that had been generated by Hilton and Prejean's on-air exchange, Farrell was quick to say, "I commend her, actually, for taking a stance for something she believes in," but went on to say that questions about the propriety of Prejean expressing a personal opinion in the role of Miss California were valid.

Farrell, the 2003 winner of Miss Teen USA, noted that Prejean "has signed on as a position of Miss California, and she cannot represent the entire state based upon her own belief.

"She can go for that cause as Carrie," added Farrell, "but not as Miss California."

Farrell said that in Prejean's place, she would have opined that the issue would best be left to the states to decide, adding, "I'm just a simple beauty queen, and I think it's funny that this is a question scholars and politicians have debated on and now we're looking to a beauty queen for the answers."

Asked about another controversial aspect of the story, Miss California USA having reportedly paid for a breast enhancement procedure for Prejean, Farrell said of her own physique, "I think I'm good--I'm good with this body."

Even as the mainstream began to tune out, the religious right and social conservatives fanned the fading embers of the story.

A press release from the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission railed on gays generally for Hilton's question and reportage done by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

The release started with the boilerplate assertion that gays demand "tolerance" for themselves but show none in return, and went on to call Hilton a "flamboyant homosexual" and Olbermann an "anti-Christian bigot" and a "syncophant."

The release contained a quote from the CEO and chairman of CADC, Gary Cass, who stated, somewhat confusingly, "By courageously shining the light of God's truth on the marriage issue, now homosexuals and their allies irrationally seek to defame and destroy Carrie Prejean."

Continued Cass, "Perez Hilton, 'queen of all media,' and your sycophant Keith Olbermann, take some advice from Jesus Christ; 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.'"

Cass went on to note, "Carrie Prejean did not go out of her way to attack homosexuals. The national spot light was thrust on her because she answered a question at the Miss USA pageant posed by the flamboyant homosexual judge, Perez Hilton.

Asserted Cass, "He exploited his opportunity to try to advance his own social agenda. Because Carrie answered honestly according to her convictions she is being vilified."

Added Cass, "Because she is a Christian, they seem all the more eager to defame her."

Cass went on to claim that marriage equality advocates were targeting Prejean in order to shroud the issue of marriage equality itself.

"Homosexuals want to make it all about Carrie, not about the merits of their attempt to redefine the institution of marriage," claimed Cass.

"Carrie does not deserve to be victimized by the politics of personal destruction by a bunch of self-righteous liberals and rabid homosexuals," Cass added.

"Carrie's view of marriage is morally right.

"What Carrie has or has not done in the past in no way negates God's unchanging standard of heterosexual marriage.

"This is what homosexuals don't want to debate because they know in their own conscience that they are wrong," Cass declared.

Meantime, a May 5 posting at socially conservative Web site The Right Perspective reported that in Botswana, a faint echo of the flap had been initiated when a celebrity judge, DJ Fresh, asked a contestant in the Miss Botswana pageant, Sumaiyah Marope, about her views on marriage equality.

Marope answered, "It is an unnatural act."

Added the contestant, "God made us men and women," and went on to add, "It is only proper for men to have relationships with women as God created us."

The article noted that GLBT equality advocates in that country are pressing for marriage equality.

Marope went on to win the crown in that competition.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-05-08 11:59:54

    Religious conservatives launched into action, latching onto the televised exchange and Hilton’s subsequent video, and crying out that Prejean was being "persecuted" by gay and lesbian America for her Christian beliefs: Conservatives and devout Christians forget the persecution they have inflicted on the LGBT community. DJ Fresh, asked a contestant in the Miss Botswana pageant, Sumaiyah Marope, about her views on marriage equality. Marope answered, "It is an unnatural act." Added the contestant, "God made us men and women," and went on to add, "It is only proper for men to have relationships with women as God created us": Amazing how people feel free to quote what they have been brainwashed with as being the truth. Time to outlaw Christianity.

  • , 2009-05-08 16:41:47

    "who later said she’d been dreading such a query from the controversial blogger" My understanding is that she chose Hilton’s question. She could have picked another judge. If she was dreading this, why choose him? She planned this.

  • SilverPixies, 2009-05-08 17:19:11

    I have been saying this to a lot of people and i don’t understand why no one can wrap their minds around this.. All of this Crap she is pulling isn’t about her stand.. I watched the Show.. I want to know what country she and her family is from and What in the Hell is an Opposite Marriage? Honestly She didn’t answer the entire Question she was posed.. She looked and spoke like a 5yr with her hand in the cookie jar. She Lost because she came across as stupid.. Plain and Simple.. Everyone wants this to be about her stand.. Its not. Yes her stand Sucks but as an American she is entitled to it. I don’t think she makes the best Miss Cali but that’s not my call..

  • Doris Roberson, 2009-05-09 09:18:31

    Personally I don’t feel it is any ones right to restrict or deny marriage. What others do in there personal life is not something the government should be involved in. We live in the land of the free right? No I think not. How does it affect the Christians if there are same sex marriage? This is only one reason I dont ollow Christianity and have found Paganism. I am straight and Married to a man but have several Gay friends who have a human right to do what they feel is right. They live and love together just like a man and woman and should be allowed the right to the same benefits. This woman has made a fool of herself and as for the gay and lesbian community "persecuting" her, What goes around comes around.

  • tilchim, 2009-05-09 10:22:45

    Why did this judge ask such a question at a beauty contest? It was inappropriate. Her answer could have been better, but she in fact DID represent the state of California,and that state voted to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Her expressed views represented the majority of Californians and the majority of Americans.

  • , 2009-05-11 15:10:59

    Wasn’t it Miss California who struck at Perez first, claiming that if it were not for this question and her bumbled response, she would have won the contest? Isn’t it true that she tripped over her answer, using incorrect terms and generally sounding like a total idiot that caused her to lose? And once again the Christian-right gets up on their soap box and cries foul. What about how many times they’ve fouled the Same-Sex Marriage movement? This is hypocrisy at it’s finest. When everyone treats everyone else equally, then lets talk.

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