CONCORD — Former Miss New Hampshire contestants are claiming that pageant organizers pressured women behind the scenes to accept a fur coat if declared the winner, which is in contrast to assertions by pageant supporters that participants “have the option.” The past competitors’ statements come as a legislative bill calling for a study to prohibit recreational trapping remains under review.
Kacie Flahive, 21, a Miss New Hampshire contestant in 2017 and 2018, said she entered the competition in hopes to earn college scholarship money. The Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program awards roughly $70,000 to $75,000 per year in total scholarship money to contestants, including a guaranteed scholarship of around $1,300 to each non-finalist. The competition accepts approximately 23 women each year who must win at least one local pageant competition to qualify for the state competition.
Flahive, who won the title of Miss Gate City, a Nashua-based competition in 2016, chose the platform of “preventing animal cruelty and opting to adopt.” As a youth in Windham, she volunteered for three years at the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Massachusetts. According to Flahive, the farm is “one of the bigger no-kill animal shelters on the East Coast.”
“When you have that volunteering experience it’s good for your personal platform, which you need to compete in the Miss America organization,” Flahive said as she elaborated on her platform choice.
But after joining the competition, Flahive soon learned that pageant organizers appeared concerned about her “prevention of animal cruelty” platform, as one of the program’s sponsors happens to be the New Hamsphire Trappers Association. The association has supported the Miss New Hampshire competition for more than 25 years.
Every year trappers donate furs to the association to make a coat for the Miss New Hampshire winner. Last year the association presented a gray fox coat to the current Miss New Hampshire Sarah Tubbs.
Flacine said that in her first year of competition the pageant’s organizers had coached her how to answer a question that might arise about her platform, with regard to how it might offend the New Hampshire Trappers Association as a sponsor.
“The response I was told to give was along the lines of, ‘While it goes against my personal beliefs, I have to respect the Trappers Association for their support to us,’” Flahive said.
While not entirely comfortable, Flahive noted her desire to compete made her willing to compromise.
But the pressure on Flahive only worsened during her second year in the competition.
Flahive said that at the 2018 orientation, Claudette Jolin, co-executive director of the Miss New Hampshire program, “told all the girls that, no matter what, if you win Miss New Hampshire, you are wearing the fur coat.”
“They said, ‘You have to wear it once on stage after you’re crowned, when you give a speech thanking the sponsors,’” Flahive said. “‘And you have to wear it at the annual banquet that the Trappers Association holds.’ [They said] they didn’t care if we sold it afterward, but Miss New Hampshire has to support the Trappers Association.”
Another 2018 competitor, who asked to remain anonymous for this article, also recalled Jolin’s directive to the contestants.
“I remember Claudette specifically telling [us] that we did not have a choice,” she said. The anonymous former contestant said in an email correspondence that the competitors were frequently “guilted into a lot of things because of the scholarship money we received.”
“I don’t know where the current Miss New Hampshire stands on the issue,” she said. “But I can say that she probably isn’t allowed to speak up if she disagrees.”
Flahive told The Eagle Times that her decision to speak out was partly driven by public comments made by members of the Trappers Association and the Miss New Hampshire program which claim that the competitors “are given a choice” whether to accept the coat.
In an article by The Union Leader published on April 24, 2019 titled “Anti-fur protest planned for Miss New Hampshire pageant at Pinkerton,” Dwight Pennell, then-president of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, said that the coat “is very well received” by the winners, as evidenced by the fact no women have opted out of receiving it.
“That’s when I knew I had to say something because that was far from the case,” Flahive said.
Flahive currently lives in Los Angeles where she is pursuing a career in the music industry. She told The Eagle Times that by speaking publicly about this issue hopefully more Miss New Hampshire contestants will voice their discomfort with the fur coat prize.
“I got into the program because I wanted scholarship money and wanted to give a voice to animals that couldn’t protect themselves,” she said. “[The fur coat] is such an outdated tradition and we don’t need it to be associated with our program.”
Kristina Snyder, an animal rights activist from Chester, has spearheaded many recent initiatives to end the fur coat tradition, including a protest last November outside the theatre in Derry which hosts the Miss New Hampshire events.
Snyder told The Eagle Times that draping women with fur coats conflicts with the direction that the Miss America program is trying to take by shedding outdated dress-up traditions. In 2018, Miss America ended the swimsuit competition and last year ended the evening gown competition.
Bill Haggerty, president and co-executive director of the Miss New Hampshire program, said in an interview Tuesday that he could not speak for 2017 and 2018 but that as of this past year’s competition the individual named Miss New Hampshire was given the option to accept or decline the fur coat as part of a new policy. However, no such policy change could be found on the Miss New Hampshire program’s website.
The Eagle Times tried to reach Jolin for a comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
House bill seeks study to ban trapping
HB-1504, sponsored by New Hampshire Rep. Kathryn Stack (D-Hillsborough), seeks to form a committee to study prohibiting recreational trapping. The bill is currently under review in the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, and has a hearing scheduled for discussion on Tuesday, March 3.
Larry Torr, president of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, expressed opposition to the bill in a written statement on the association’s website.
“This is a backdoor attempt to ban recreational trapping,” Torr wrote.
Among his grievances with the bill, Torr said that the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game would not be part of the committee assigned to conduct this study.