Miss Universe’s first openly trans contestant fights for tolerance, respect, and eradicating stigma
by Alan Weedon
Model and activist Angela Ponce works for the Daniela Foundation, helping to eradicate trans stigma. (AP: Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Throughout its 67-year history, the Miss Universe contest has never seen a trans contestant, until now.
- Ms Ponce ushered in the acceptance of trans contestants in Spain
- When Donald Trump partly owned the contest, trans women were barred from entering
- Miss Universe 2018 will be crowned on Monday
Spain’s Angela Ponce — an activist and model — took to the contest’s Bangkok stage in a first that some see as a show of force against discrimination widely faced within the trans community.
On the contest’s website, Ms Ponce says she wants to “spread tolerance and respect towards oneself and others globally” if given the crown.
At home, she works for the Daniel Foundation, a Spanish non-profit organisation working to eradicate the stigma trans children face.
Ms Ponce has overcome a number of hurdles to get to the stage in 2018, having told Time that her debut to Spanish Miss World in 2015 was met with a disqualification.
“I found out on the day of the competition that their rules didn’t allow a transgender woman to win. It crushed me,” she said.
“I had to go on and perform, and it felt horrible. But after I got to the Miss Universe final, Miss World changed their rules too. I changed the rules.”
Trump owned Miss Universe when it barred trans women
Until 2012, the contest actively limited contests to “naturally born” women.
President Donald Trump jointly-owned the Miss Universe contest with American broadcaster NBC from 2002, but the broadcaster severed ties with the then-reality TV mogul after he made derogatory comments aimed at Mexicans.
Today, the star-turned-President has been widely criticised by the trans community, having barred them from joining the US military, in addition to recent plans to define sex as immutable and wholly determined by a baby’s genitals.
When asked about what a potential win at the Miss Universe contest would say about Mr Trump’s policies, Ms Ponce said:
“[It would be] more than a message to him, it would be a win for human rights. Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long,” she said.
Greater trans visibility has not equalled more rights
Despite the increased visibility of trans people within popular culture and broader society across some Western countries, trans communities are not placed on an equal footing with their cis-gender peers.
In recent memory, public figures such as Caitlyn Jenner, Janet Mock and Australia’s Cate McGregor have all illuminated the rife discrimination aimed toward trans people.
Speaking to ABC Radio National’s Life Matters in 2017, American writer Ms Mock said she spent “most of her twenties vacillating between publicly revealing and concealing her identity as a trans woman”.
In Australia, the Human Rights Commission found in a 2014 report that trans men and women experience significantly higher rates of non-physical and physical abuse compared to gays and lesbians, leading to almost half of all trans people hiding their identity in fear of violence or discrimination.
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The Australian National LGBTI Health Alliance also found that trans people are nearly 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general Australian population.
While some argue that a beauty contest such as Miss Universe trades in antiquated stereotypes of femininity that entrenches more issues around body dysmorphia, Ms Ponce told Today America that trans women should be given agency to do whatever they please.
“None of us are obligated to be here. And for me, it’s a platform to share my voice,” she said.
“To me, feminism is freedom to do what you want, when you want to. We cannot put brakes on the freedom of women, on one platform or another.”
Miss Universe 2018 will be crowned on Monday.