The tiara went to Kathy Zhu, but one day after she had been crowned Miss Michigan by the Miss World America organization, the beauty queen was stripped of her title.
Racially and religiously charged comments Zhu had made on Twitter came to the attention of pageant organizers, who ruled that they violated the competition’s rules of “good character.”
After a flurry of text messages and emails between Zhu, 20, and organizers, she was told the competition would no longer recognize her and she was to stop mentioning or using images of herself as the pageant’s winner.
Zhu, a conservative activist who is a University of Michigan senior and the social media director for the national group Chinese Americans for Trump, shared on social media an email she had received Thursday from the pageant’s state director, Laurie DeJack.
“It has been brought to the attention of Miss World America ‘MWA’ that your social media accounts contain offensive, insensitive and inappropriate content,” DeJack wrote.
The first tweet that drew the scrutiny of the pageant came in response to criticism of police officers about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Did you know the majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks?” Zhu wrote on Twitter in October 2017. “Fix problems within your own community first before blaming others.”
In February 2018, in a tweet she has since deleted, Zhu criticized a World Hijab Day awareness event at the University of Central Florida, where she had been a student before transferring.
“There’s a ‘try a hijab on’ booth at my college campus,” Zhu wrote at the time. “So you’re telling me that it’s now just a fashion accessory and not a religious thing? Or are you just trying to get women used to being oppressed under Islam.”
Zhu said in an interview Saturday that her tweets had been taken out of context and that she was punished for her conservative views. She said that not wanting to wear a hijab did not make her an Islamophobe.
This was the first pageant entered by Zhu, who is now disqualified from advancing to the Miss World America pageant in October in Las Vegas.
“They just immediately assumed that I was a racist,” said Zhu, vice president of the College Republicans at the University of Michigan. “They should have let me explain myself.”
DeJack declined to comment Saturday and referred questions to the Miss World America organization, an international competition that dates to 1951.
The organization’s national director, Michael Galanes, and its chief operating officer, Robert Gandara, did not respond to messages seeking comment. There was no immediate word on who would replace Zhu.
Zhu is not the first beauty pageant contestant to be embroiled in controversy.
In 2009, Carrie Prejean Boller, who was the first runner-up nationally in the Miss USA pageant, faced a backlash when she was asked whether she supported same-sex marriage and answered that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“There was a huge outcry about this,” said professor Hilary Levey Friedman, an author, sociologist and beauty pageant expert.
Boller, who also drew attention for seminude photos, was fired as Miss California USA by pageant organizers, including Donald Trump, because, they said, she did not fulfill her contractual obligations to make required public appearances.
Erika Harold, who was Miss America in 2003 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress and for Illinois attorney general as a Republican, caused a stir for promoting an abstinence education program.
Levey Friedman pointed out that pageant winners with liberal views, such as Kate Shindle, the 1998 Miss America who pushed for AIDS education and distributing condoms in schools, have also caused controversy.
Vanessa Williams, the actress and singer, surrendered her crown as the first Black Miss America in 1984 after revelations that Penthouse magazine was about to publish nude photos she had posed for when she was a photographer’s assistant. In 2015, the chief executive of Miss America apologized to Williams for the way the controversy had been handled.
Blain Roberts, a history professor at Fresno State University in California who has written about pageants, said competitions such as Miss America have strict rules that contestants must never have been married and must adhere to a code of conduct.
“You had to sign a pledge as a contestant guaranteeing that you had not engaged in any acts of moral turpitude,” Roberts said.
Zhu, who has galvanized many conservatives across the country, said she stands by her social media comments but the whole flap could have been avoided.
“They should have vetted me better before they allowed me to be crowned,” she said.