Filtered By: Lifestyle

Transgender, indigenous contestants in historic Miss Universe pageant

BANGKOK — Like many other contestants at the Miss Universe beauty pageant, Angela Ponce grew up watching the glitzy spectacle on television, dreaming of representing her country one day.

This year, her wish has come true, with Ponce making history as the first transgender contestant in the pageant's 66-year history.

"Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long. I'm showing that trans women can be whatever they want," said Ponce, who was crowned Miss Spain earlier this year.

"I am proud to have the opportunity to use this platform for a message of inclusion, tolerance and respect for the LGBT+ community," she said in an interview in Bangkok, where the finale is to be held on Dec. 17.



My National Costume in Miss Universe is a traditional Spanish "bata de cola". This is an iconic piece in Spain, also known all over the world; it is a precious reference of my country. To make this wonderful National Costume, @luisfernandezdisenador was inspired by a number of things. The first one being the white villages of Andalusia, since we wanted to honor where I come from (Seville). The white of the villages, of purity... White representing peace, the peace that I bring as my message hand and hand with equality, respect, inclusion and love. A white 'bata de cola' that crosses a river of beautiful red carnations made by @hatsbyroiz. Secondly we had the carnations as inspiration because they are the most typical and recognizable flower of my beautiful country. For that reason I wanted this flower and its color because it represents the love that, as Miss Universe Spain 2018, I'm transmitting to the whole world. That is the motivate behind a river of red carnations shaped around my head and body, almost as a Spanish flag. As complements, I carried a fan to expand the scent of our land, a beautiful tortoise-shell & Swarovski clip that crowns my head as Miss Universe Spain 2018.

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The Miss Universe Organization, which owns the beauty pageant, lifted a ban on transgender contestants in 2012.

The competition airs in more than 190 countries, with an estimated half a billion viewers annually.

Picked by several online bookies as the favorite to win the crown, Ponce volunteers with a non-profit in Spain that works with children and families dealing with gender identity issues.

Transgender children often struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, she said.

"I was born into a world, into a society which really wasn't prepared for me. I had the support of my family, but I still faced discrimination, and I had no role models," she said.

"So many children face discrimination for being different. It is important to tell them they have a right to be who they are, who they want to be," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation through an interpreter.


The pageant will take place as Thailand prepares to pass a landmark bill that would allow civil partnerships of same-sex couples, becoming the first Asian country to do so.

Taiwan's constitutional court last year ruled that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and set a two-year deadline for legalisation. But voters last month rejected a referendum on legalisation.

Ponce, 26, said she was shut out of several fashion competitions because she is transgender.

"When I won Miss Spain, I was so excited," she said.

"As they were placing the crown, I just shut my eyes to take it in, because I knew it was a very significant moment."

Alongside Ponce is another contestant who has battled prejudice, and is also making history as Panama's first indigenous Miss Universe contestant.

"When I entered the competition, there was a lot of criticism; people attacked me on Instagram and in the media, and said I should not be allowed to compete," said Rosa Montezuma, her eyes welling up.



??Festival de Invierno de Bangkok ?? . Foto: @tpageant

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There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, according to the United Nations.

They make up less than 5 percent of the global population, but account for 15 percent of the poorest as they are denied land rights, and access to education and healthcare.

"Indigenous people have a lot of traditional knowledge, but we are not given the same opportunities," said Montezuma, 25.

"This is a great platform for me to reach the whole world and show that indigenous girls can also be successful." — Reuters