U.S. businessman Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe Organization, on Tuesday overruled a decision by pageant officials, and said a transgender contestant will be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada competition.
Jenna Talackova, a 23-year-old transgender woman, had reached the finals of the Miss Vancouver competition, but was ousted last week from the competition because organizers said she lied about having undergone sexual reassignment surgery.
Initially, pageant officials said each contestant must be a “naturally born female,” but in a statement released Monday, Miss Universe officials indicated that they might reverse their earlier decision as long as Talackova “meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada” and other international competitions.
Talackova, who carries a Canadian passport, driver’s license and birth certificate that all identify her as a woman, held a press conference on Tuesday with Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred, a high-profile legal advocate for women’s causes, demanding to be allowed back into the contest.
But by then, pageant organizers had already reversed course on Talackova’s eligibility at the behest of Trump, reported Reuters.
“As long as she meets the standards of legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, which we understand that she does, Jenna Talackova is free to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant,” said Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump and executive vice president of his business group.
“Nobody is capitulating. Rather the Miss Universe organization is respecting the laws of Canada,” Cohen told Reuters, adding that she, “like all the other contestants, is wished the best of luck by Mr. Trump.”
He also said, “Assuming she wins, she would be the representative of that country (Canada)” in the larger Miss Universe Pageant.
Allred has called on the Miss Universe organization to abolish its rule requiring contestants to be “naturally born” females, calling it “an antiquated rule grounded in prejudice, fear and stereotypes.”
Cohen said the organization “is taking this issue under advisement.”
Talackova said she has identified as female since age four, began hormone therapy at 14 and had sex reassignment surgery in 2010.
The Miss Universe Canada competition is May 19 in Toronto.