“There she is, Miss America
There she is, your ideal
The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City.
For she may turn out to be the Queen of femininity.”
This week’s Portrait is Anesha Robinson, the reigning Miss Southeastern, PA who was crowned this past March. Robinson will soon be competing for the coveted title of Miss Pennsylvania. Robinson started off her competition life in pants and a jacket and has continued to defy the odds and convention ever since. We made an appointment for a FaceTime chat, and I was surprised to see her in full pageant regalia, tiara and all.
PGN: Look at you! All dressed up in the middle of the day!
AR: I did a quick change. I work as a preschool teacher, so I usually look like a slob in sweats or scrubs. I’m not often this dolled up in the afternoon. [Laughing] I did this for you.
PGN: Awww, I appreciate that. In full disclosure, I’m wearing a dress shirt, but if you were to look below the desk I’m wearing some ratty old shorts. But let me start by saying congratulations on your title. You began competing in pageants in 2012. I understand you had what in basketball terms would be called a real buzzer beater—that last-minute score that lets you go to the championship.
AR: I really liked the sisterhood of the pageant world and I enjoyed the competitiveness and the idea of all these women having collective goals and dreams. Everybody’s platform was different, but we were all traveling on the same path. For a few years, I only entered the Miss Philadelphia contests. After three years, I ventured out and competed in other pageants within the Miss America system. I tried for Miss Montgomery County, Miss Bucks County, Liberty Belle and Miss Butler. I wasn’t so much preoccupied with winning the title; my focus was getting the word out about LGBT awareness. That was my platform, it was the imperative reason for me for continue competing. I competed for almost five years and hadn’t won any titles, but I wanted to keep going so I could get my message out. I ended with competing for Miss Lancaster and I figured that would be it. Honestly, I’d had enough. But after the competition I was swarmed by families and young girls and older women who were all telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing. And I realized that I was doing the job I set out to do. Even without a title.
PGN: Tell me about the family.
AR: I’m the eldest of eight kids. I have two sisters and five brothers, so I had to grow up quickly. I have an amazing family, however we are at a separation right now because of my “lifestyle.” Their term for it. I am and openly identify as lesbian, I have a partner of nine years and it’s been an issue for them. I love them dearly and I was able to reconnect with my mother very recently. I told her about winning my title. When I first started competing she came to one of the pageants. I started out with beauty and positive self-image as my platform but quickly changed it to LGBT awareness, and that was it for her. I told her that I understood but that this was a journey I needed to walk and a responsibility I felt compelled to take on. After that I was pretty much estranged from the whole family.
PGN: When did you make the pageant people aware that you were gay?
AR: From day one. I walked in wearing a pantsuit for the interview instead of the usual cocktail dress. That’s it, no pretense. I had locks in my hair, and that’s how I presented myself, despite several people telling me I should wear a wig.
PGN: What was one of the most positive responses to you being out?
AR: I was saying something to a co-worker about my girlfriend, and one of the students overheard me and told his mother. The next day his mother came to the school and pulled me aside. She said, “My son has told me that you have a girlfriend, is this true?” I said yes, and she said, “That’s awesome! I want to raise my child to be open-minded and kind.” After that, he would come to school in heels with his nails painted. Because of our conversation, she felt comfortable letting him be himself in my classroom. For a split second when she first asked me, I wondered where the conversation was going and if I should be truthful, but I had to, and look at where it led.
PGN: You sing for the talent portion of the competitions?
AR: Yes, for the last one I sang Whitney’s “I Have Nothing.” She’s my all-time favorite.
PGN: [Laughing] I hit on her once backstage at the Mann Music Center, but Robin wasn’t having it!
AR: What? Good for you! I wish I’d been able to meet her. I would have done the same!
PGN: So do you do the butt glue and Vaseline on the teeth and other pageant tricks?
AR: Not really, in the beginning I didn’t even wear make-up. Some people use Vaseline but it makes them slur their words. And I was like, what’s butt glue? I think I have enough back there to handle it. But I have to say, I used it this year. It helped me keep perfect lines with the bikini that I wore and it helps keep things modest when we walk.
PGN: If you were a natural element what would you be?
AR: Fire. Once I get an idea or a mission I’m on fire until I accomplish it.
PGN: An act of kindness that moved you?
AR: I’d have to say the support from the local director for Miss Southeastern PA, Mary Meister. I didn’t understand why she cared when even my mother wasn’t there to support me. But she’s always been an ally, and supported my journey. She encouraged me to be my total self.
PGN: Now that you’re a title-holder, do you have to open car dealerships and do parades, etc.?
AR: Yes. Even before this year, I was Miss Tourism Pennsylvania 2016. During that reign, I rode in the Philly Pride parade and performed onstage. I’ve tried to be active in the community, but I’d like to do more. I’ll be in the parade again this year, though I’m not performing.
PGN: Whose wardrobe closet would you want to raid?
AR: Michelle Obama’s, of course. And Ellen’s.
PGN: Tell me about your girlfriend.
AR: She’s amazing. Aisha Williams. She’s also a preschool teacher but at a different school. I met her at the New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia. Her mother was my dance teacher. She walked in and saw me taking an African-dance class and the rest is
history. I can’t wait to marry her.
PGN: How did you come out?
AR: I was outed by a family member who was at Freedom Theater with us. He figured it out and told my mother. I was not granted the opportunity to tell my truth in my own time, and things transpired in a very ugly fashion from that point on. I became depressed and was suicidal at one point. But I wouldn’t change it, because it made me the strong person I am now. I can use what happened to me to help someone else. I can tell kids in the same position that there’s sunshine at the end of the dark tunnel. Kids, who like me, didn’t have someone to hold and hug us and tell us that we were loved and that we mattered. It’s why I’m so passionate about
what I do.
PGN: How can people help you out?
AR: I’m gearing up for the Miss Pennsylvania contest in June. I just did a bake sale and I’m planning on doing other events to raise money. I’m looking to get out there in all communities. As Miss Southeastern PA, I really want to use this year as much as I can to be a good spokesperson for the community and the Miss America organization. I hope to be able change some hearts and minds.