The Miss Universe Organization on Tuesday announced that it is changing its rules and will allow transgender women to take part in all of its competitions starting in 2013.
The announcement comes just weeks after contestant Jenna Talackova, a transgender woman, was disqualified from competing for the title of Miss Universe Canada because she was not a “naturally born female.”
Talackova, 23, had reached the finals of the Miss Vancouver competition, but was ousted from the competition when organizers said she lied about having undergone sexual reassignment surgery.
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Following the move to disqualify Talackova, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) contacted the Miss Universe Organization, and called on pageant officials to open the competition to transgender women.
Last week, pageant officials indicated they might reverse their earlier decision as long as Talackova “meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada” and other international competitions.
But by then, U.S. businessman Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe Organization, overruled pageant officials, and said Talackova would be allowed to compete in the Miss Universe Canada competition, but until now, the organization had not announced any change in its official entry requirements.
“For more than two weeks, the Miss Universe Organization and Mr. Trump made it clear to GLAAD that they were open to making a policy change to include women who are transgender,” said GLAAD spokesperson Herndon Graddick. “We appreciate that he and his team responded swiftly and appropriately.”
“Jenna and all of the LGBT advocates who have called for this change and spoken out in support of transgender women are to be commended. At a time when transgender people are still routinely denied equal opportunities in housing, employment and medical care, today’s decision is in line with the growing levels of public support for transgender people across the country.”
Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, credited GLAAD with leading the discussion that resulted in today’s announcement:
“We want to give credit where credit is due, and the decision to include transgender women in our beauty competitions is a result of our ongoing discussions with GLAAD and not Jenna’s legal representation, which if anything, delayed the process. We have a long history of supporting equality for all women, and this was something we took very seriously,” Shugart said.
Talackova had enlisted the help of Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred, a high-profile legal advocate for women’s causes, in demanding to be allowed back into the contest.
“No one likes it when they’re left out of something because of who they are. This is especially true for transgender people — people like Jenna Talackova — who are denied opportunities because they’re told that who they are is ‘unnatural,'” said Mara Keisling, Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement.
“So I get that Jenna probably still doesn’t feel good about the situation. But it’s a noteworthy thing for a group like the Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump to switch positions allowing Jenna to participate, and to commit to developing transgender inclusive rules. This is a good thing, and it’s a sign of how more and more people get trans issues,” Keisling said.