The First Lesbian Miss America Made A Startling Decision – And Fans Were Left Floored

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Deidre Downs could never be described as your average Miss America. For starters, the Alabama native only began entering beauty pageants in order to pay for her medical school studies. And while Downs managed to hold onto the crown for a record-breaking three calendar years, in 2018 she made an announcement that left many who’d followed her career in shock.

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Downs had first caught national attention in 2004, when she had qualified to represent her home state of Alabama in the annual Miss America competition. And the hopeful made a big impression almost from the start by winning the Quality of Life Award in the initial stage of the contest.

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Downs was still in the running, then, during the next stages of the competition, which were beamed simultaneously to ABC viewers from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The finalists competed in several rounds, with each participant having to show off their best looks in the swimsuit, casual wear and evening gown segments. They also had to take part in a quiz, with all of these categories helping to whittle down the competitors to just two.

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Then, following the one-on-one talent contest portion of the night, Deidre Downs was crowned the winner ahead of Miss Louisiana Ericka Dunlap, making her only the third Miss America to hail from the state of Alabama. And not only was the 24-year-old appointed Miss America, but she was also gifted a scholarship worth $50,000.

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So, how exactly did Downs end up receiving such an honor? Well, her road to Miss America stardom began when she graduated from Alabama’s Pelham High School in the late 1990s. With a volleyball scholarship in tow, she then went on to continue her studies at the University of Virginia. After Downs’ freshman year, however, she decided to change her career course.

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Yet Downs’ choice to move from the University of Virginia to study medicine at Samford University had one major drawback: she had to surrender her scholarship. To raise the money that she needed for her education, then, she decided to become a regular beauty pageant contestant.

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And Downs wasn’t a complete stranger to the concept, either. She’d competed in such competitions while at high school, for instance, and had even been crowned a pageant winner during her senior year. It was only at the turn of the century, however, that the young woman began showcasing both her beauty and her brains at a regional level.

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Downs made her debut in the 2000 Miss Alabama pageant competition, slowly climbing her way up the ranks in the years that followed. You see, while she didn’t place in her first contest, she managed to finish fourth in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 she even very nearly went all the way by coming second overall. At this point, the pageant competitor had actually finished her studies at Samford University.

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Yes, Downs had graduated with a history degree – as well as a double minor in chemistry and biology – in 2002. But her educational ambitions hadn’t ended there. For one, she wanted to attend the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and so she continued to chase the Miss Alabama prize to help with the necessary funds.

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Then, following several near-misses, in 2004 Downs finally got the title that she had craved. After being crowned Miss Leeds Area, that year she once again entered the Miss Alabama beauty pageant. And it proved to be fifth time lucky for Downs when reigning Miss Alabama champion Catherine Crosby presented her with the prestigious crown.

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Thanks to that victory, then, Downs was able to grace the Miss America contest for the first time. Citing “Curing Childhood Cancer” as her platform, she impressed judges enough in the preliminary round to scoop the Quality of Life Award. And the pageant hopeful continued to wow in the televised live part of the main contest.

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In fact, Downs ultimately became one of the last ten contestants, advancing to the final five after showing off her best swimsuit and casual wear looks. Then, following the evening gown category and quiz, two contestants remained: Downs and Dupont. And in order to determine the overall winner, the pair went head-to-head in a talent contest.

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Much to her delight, Downs emerged victorious and was presented with the crown by previous winner Ericka Dunlap. The $50,000 scholarship prize was likely far more valuable to the aspiring medical professional, however, and that particular windfall took her total pageant money earned to a pretty impressive $110,000.

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And as it happens, Downs inadvertently ended up holding the title of Miss America across three calendar years – making her the only winner to date to achieve this feat. The young woman was initially crowned in September 2004, you see, and owing to the 2005 event being postponed for four months, she remained the champion until January 2006.

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Meanwhile, in a 2014 interview with AL.com, Downs reflected on how bizarre she had found the whole experience. She said, “It was surreal to stand on stage, on national television, and have my name called as Miss America and to walk the runway as they played ‘There She Is, Miss America.’ It is still surreal.”

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Then, after belatedly handing over her crown to Miss Oklahoma Jennifer Berry, Downs switched her attention back to her medical career. She started studying at Birmingham’s University of Alabama School of Medicine, graduating in 2010, and finished an obstetrics and gynecology residency at the UAB Medical Center in 2014.

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But Downs’ long and arduous route to a career in the medical field didn’t end there. She went on to study further at the UAB Medical Center, eventually concluding her reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellowship in 2017. Then, finally, the former Miss America winner was appointed as a physician at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center.

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Yet Downs didn’t entirely leave the world of beauty pageantry behind. In 2014, you see, she was appointed as a judge for the closing night of the Miss America competition, which was held once again at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. And on this occasion, it was Miss New York Nina Davuluri who ultimately emerged victorious.

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By this point, moreover, Downs had also become a mother. She had given birth to son Jack in 2010 – just two years after walking down the aisle with Andrew Gunn, whom she had met in college. Sadly, though, Downs and Gunn’s marriage didn’t end up going the distance, and the couple eventually headed for the divorce courts.

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Nevertheless, Downs didn’t give up on love, and in 2017 she met up with a fellow online dater for drinks after the pair had forged a promising bond. This time around, though, the object of the one-time Miss America’s affections was a woman. And Downs would later tell People that she had fallen in love with Abbott Jones the moment that she had first laid eyes on her.

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Thankfully, Jones reportedly felt similarly by the end of their date, which had seen the two bond over their passions for Harry Potter, champagne, traveling and music. And on Christmas Day that same year – just after they’d both watched a festive episode of Doctor Who – Downs made the ultimate romantic gesture: she asked Jones to marry her.

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Downs had put a fair amount of work into the proposal, too, as she had created a video that showcased several of the most joyous moments in her and Jones’ relationship. Then, after screening the heartwarming clip, she presented the engagement ring to Jones – who fortunately accepted.

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Yet while Downs may have been the one to pop the question, Jones still wanted to have the opportunity to make a unique gesture herself. So, after asking Downs’ son, Jack, for his blessing, Jones got to work recreating her and the erstwhile Miss America’s first date out of Lego. Family in tow, the happy couple then celebrated in the U.K. over the New Year period.

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It should be noted, though, that same-sex marriage had only been made legal in Downs and Jones’ home state the year previously. What’s more, 2015 research by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 32 percent of Alabama natives are in favor of the practice. Along with Mississippi, this makes Alabama the state with the joint-lowest numbers in support of marriage equality.

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Speaking to AL.com in 2018, Alabama Citizens Action Program’s executive director Dr. Joe Godfrey attempted to explain these findings. The Birmingham-based lobbyist said, “It’s because there is more biblical literacy in Alabama than most other places. The Bible clearly teaches us that marriage is between one man and woman for life.”

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Godfrey continued, “Everyone teaches that, [and] people grow up believing that. No one is willing to change the Bible around here.” And this point of view aligns with AL.com’s findings that Alabama possesses some of the highest levels of church attendance in America. Yet naturally some people are resisting change more than others.

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In 2017, for example, Ballotpedia recorded that there were no fewer than seven counties in Alabama that had embarked on drastic measures to avoid giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In essence, these parts of the state had simply refused to hand marriage licenses to anyone at all – regardless of their gender.

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But thankfully Downs and Jones’ marriage occurred without a hitch, with the pair saying ‘I do’ at an April 2018 ceremony in the Birmingham Museum of Art. The wedding itself had the motif of ‘modern Southern romance,’ and as a result candlelight and neutrally colored flowers both went into creating the ideal atmosphere for the proceedings.

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The beaming newlyweds got plenty of help in staging their dream day, too, with Invision Events assisting Jones and Downs in bringing their ideal ceremony to life. And the whole occasion was immaculately captured for posterity by acclaimed photographers Daniel and Kelli Taylor.

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Speaking to wedding-focused site The Knot, Jones admitted that she had been overawed when she had initially set eyes on the wedding venue. She said, “When I first saw the space, I burst into tears. We’ve been planning and imagining this day for months, and to see all the details come together so beautifully was overwhelming.”

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But what were the two brides wearing? Well, Jones said her vows in a bow-topped ballgown that had been designed by Sareh Nouri. Downs, on the other hand, decided on a snug-fitting dress by LianCarlo. And in a nod to tradition, both women were sporting white while walking down the aisle.

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Perhaps the sweetest part of the whole occasion, though, was the fact that Downs’ son Jack pulled double duty on the day. Yes, the eight-year-old not only took on the pivotal role of best man, but he also ended up giving away his mom. And Jack may well have enjoyed the feast of food that was served up at the reception after his important day’s work.

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Indeed, judging by the range of dishes on offer during the event, it’s unlikely that any of the 200 attendees went home hungry. Sticking with the Southern theme, the menu included such classics as buttermilk biscuits, mini chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes and fried okra.

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The range of drinks on offer were appropriate for the occasion, too. Guests could enjoy peach Bellinis made with fruit from Chilton County, for example, along with Moscow Mules that had a Southern flavor. Instead of the traditional vodka, you see, the so-called Kentucky Mule was concocted using bourbon.

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Plus, of course, there was plenty of dancing. At one point, Jack showed off a few moves alongside his mom to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Jones, meanwhile, chose “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder for her turn on the floor with her father, and she and Downs embarked on their first dance as wives to the Shania Twain ballad “From This Moment On.”

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And the celebrations continued into the night, with beignets and yet more miniature chicken and biscuits being offered as a night-time treat. Then, when it came time for the two brides to leave the venue, they did so in style. As confetti poured down upon them, the newlyweds hopped in a Bentley to journey away as a married couple.

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Speaking to People magazine after the event, Downs revealed that the day couldn’t have been any more perfect. She said, “I feel overjoyed to have found someone to share life’s adventures. The wedding was beautiful and special, but it was really just the beginning of our life together. I’m so lucky to have a wife who fills even small, everyday moments with great joy.”

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Nonetheless, there was one particular aspect of the wedding that Downs admitted she will cherish more than others. She added, “Saying our vows in front of our family and friends and making that commitment to the love of my life was the most meaningful part of the day for me.” Her and Jones’ vows were made even more personal by the inclusion of lines from some of their favorite works of literature.

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And several names from Downs’ beauty pageant past also went on to offer their congratulations to the happy couple. Gretchen Carlson – who won the 1989 Miss America before serving as the chairperson of the event’s board of directors – passed on her regards, for instance, while the Miss America Organization itself wished the pair “all the happiness the world” in a tweet.

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But Downs concluded her interview with People magazine by revealing how she and Jones make such a good team. She explained, “We both want to live our intention, chase our passions and do good in the world. Deidre is more pure of heart and sensible. I’m more the risk-taker, so we balance each other out.”

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