In March, the Miss Universe Canada pageant disqualified Jenna Talackova from competing. The reason? Talackova is a transgender woman and pageant organizers claimed that only “naturally born” females were allowed to compete, barring Talackova from the pageant. Organizers used clearly discriminatory language when instating this new rule, pushing Talackova out of the competition because of her transgender history.
After a huge public outcry and a potential lawsuit, the Trump Organization was forced to admit there was no reason that Talackova could not compete with the other women in the pageant. The organization only vaguely stated that she met the overall qualifications for a Canadian woman to compete, rescinding the original decision and leaving many questions unanswered regarding the previous discrimination against Talackova as a transgender woman.
After the tumultuous weeks of indecision in March and April, Talackova finally competed in the Miss Universe Canada pageant this past weekend and made headlines when she captured the Miss Congeniality award. Surprisingly, many headlines focused on Talackova’s loss to other contestants, although she placed among the top 12. The Associated Press headline stated, “Transgender Miss Universe Canada contestant loses.” Others gave a nod to her win as “Miss Congeniality” and her overall success in making it so far in the competition.
Although Jenna Talackova has stated she never intended to cause a controversy by entering the pageant, her story has now become a rallying point for highlighting discrimination based upon sex and gender identities and histories. Transgender discrimination plagues organizations, such as the Trump Organization, headed by the memorable Donald Trump, who often tries to play the role of the moral leader of pageant contestants.
Only six years ago, Trump played up this very savior role to pageant contestant Tara Conner when he allowed her to continue on as Miss America. Her personal life was scandalized after she was accused of having drinking problems and unreliable relationships with men. Both allegations intruded on Conner’s privacy and made a spectacle of her personal decisions after Trump decided to allow her to retain her crown.
The pageant world is by no means the safest or most ideal place for female bodies, making Talackova’s strong stance and insistence on competing that much more substantial. Female bodies are put on display in a variety of outfits, their behaviors, talents and histories scrutinized and judged, which means that the open and honest Talackova placed herself in a challenging role as an icon of transgender beauty and inclusion.
All of the controversy Talackova has faced in the last few months has also created a wonderful fan base of supporters and allies in the LGBT community. Her Twitter page is filled with fan notes encouraging her to continue on her path. Her story, at the young age of 23, has helped to uncover and highlight the broad discrimination that transgender people face on an institutional level and to create new images, voices and stories.
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