MILWAUKEE — Meet Annia Leonard. "I have tattoos, I'm dark-skinned and I also identify as non-binary femme. And I go by they/them," said the reigning Miss Milwaukee County while sipping coffee at Sherman Perk in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood. "These are all things that are not common for the Miss Wisconsin winner," they noted.
While Annia says winning felt like a long shot — competing for the title of Miss Wisconsin USA became a positive experience. "I met some really fire, dynamic individuals that I really have respect for," explained Annia. "(And) during the pageant they said my pronouns, they/them, which was very meaningful for me."
A pageant spokesperson told TMJ4 they were very proud to have Annia participate and were honored to see Annia win the Spirit of Miss USA & Miss Teen USA award. The spirit award celebrates a contestant being boldy who they are. They are often leaders or people who lift up others, sometimes, in the face of adversity.
In the past, Annia had to learn to navigate food insecurity. It fueled their interest in now driving the MKE Good Food Bus, which brings affordable produce to neighborhoods across the city.
Experiencing homelessness led Annia to help create a housing solution for queer people in Milwaukee. So what lies on the road ahead? Annia will focus this year on ongoing efforts to offer youth the tools to heal from domestic violence and sexual assault and will continue to create art and gender-inclusive clothing.
"I love my community and I'm really invested in seeing the progression and also the success of each community of Milwaukee," they said. Annia also acknowledged that, in many ways, the past has propelled them to where they are — and where they're still going.
Annie hopes to see future non-binary pageant candidates. And their visibility continues to grow. Right now, Annie is in the running to be the cover model on an international magazine.