Should transgender women be allowed to compete in female beauty pageants? That’s the question at the center of a heated scandal involving one Canadian pageant contestant.
23-year-old Jenna Talackova was born male but has identified as a female since age 4. She began hormone therapy at the age of 14 and underwent gender reassignment surgery at 19.
“Jenna Talackova from Vancouver, British Columbia will not compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition because she did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form,” the organization said in a statement on Friday. “We do, however, respect her goals, determination and wish her the best,” it concludes.
The Miss Universe Canada website’s rules claim that to enter, women must be a Canadian citizen at the age between 18 and 27. If basic requirements are met, they are asked to fill out a longer application form. However, the form does not mention any rules against sexual reassignment surgery.
“I am very disappointed with the decision taken by the Miss Universe … organizers,” Talackova said in a statement released Monday. “However, I will look to turn this situation into a positive so that other people in a similar situation are not discriminated against in the future.”
Denis Davila, the national director of Miss Universe Canada, explained, “she was dishonest.” Talackova was disqualified after she admitted her birth gender last week.
“She feels like a real girl and she is a real girl. She didn’t expect people to question it,” Denis Davila told the publication. “She was hoping we could put her back in the competition, but the rules are very clear, and there’s no way we can go back on it.”
“We have to have the facts straight. There is no discrimination here at all,” Davila said. “You can look at it the way she wants to look at it, but we all have to follow the same rules.”
According to PEOPLE, in a 2010 interview for Thailand’s Miss International Queen, a pageant for transgendered women, Talackova was asked whether she regards herself as transgender or as a woman. “I regard myself as a woman … with a history,” she responded.
Reactions to Talackova’s story have been mixed. Critics insist that only natural-born women should be allowed to compete in traditional women’s beauty pageants. But the ousted beauty also has her supporters – more than 20,000 of them and counting.
A change.org petition has gathered 20,171 signatures trying to change the decision to disqualify Talackova from the the Donald Trump-owned pageant. Talackova is expected to release a statement this week after speaking with her lawyer.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the Miss Universe Organization said: “As with any competition, the Miss Universe pageant has rules which apply to all of its franchises around the world. Such rules include, but are not limited to citizenship, age, and marital status requirements.”
“Additionally, the rules currently state that all contestants must be naturally born females. After review, organizers discovered that Jenna Talackova falsified her application and did not meet the necessary requirements to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant,” the organization explained.