Miss Universe pageant ends ban on transgender contestants

Jenna Talackova (from ABC News)

From Alan Duke

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The Miss Universe organization announced Tuesday it is ending its ban on transgender contestants after coming under scrutiny recently when a Canadian competitor was told she would be disqualified because she was born male.

Miss Universe officials insist the change is in spite of, not because of, legal threats from women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred made on behalf of contestant Jenna Talackova.

“We made the decision two days before we even heard that (Allred) was involved,” pageant owner Donald Trump told CNN Monday. “Had I known she was involved, maybe I wouldn’t have made that decision because she’s easy to beat.”

Allred launched a blistering attack on Trump at a news conference a week ago, saying his pageant had no right to question Talackova’s sexuality.

“She did not ask Mr. Trump to prove that he is a naturally born man or to see photos of his birth to view his anatomy to prove that he was male,” Allred said.

In a Twitter posting Monday, Trump called Allred a “third rate lawyer” who “actually hurts Jenna.”

“Is Gloria a man or a woman????—- few men would know the answer to that one,” Trump tweeted in a personal retort to Allred.

Allred did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for a response to Trump’s attack.

The Miss Universe Pageant announced last week that Talackova, 23, could compete provided “she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.”

Allred had criticized that announcement, saying the conditions were “ambigious.” Trump later said Talackova could compete without conditions, but stopped short of a permanent rule change.

Miss Universe President Paula Shugart, in a statement released Tuesday, said the credit for lifting the ban should go to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), not Allred.

“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,” Shugart said. “We have a long history of supporting equality for all women, and this was something we took very seriously.”

Shugart joined GLAAD in a joint announcement Tuesday that the Miss Universe Organization “is close to finalizing an official policy change that will allow women who are transgender to participate in its beauty competitions.”

Discussions between the pageant and GLAAD began last month after news reports that Talackova had been disqualified from the Miss Canada Universe competition after winning a regional title, the joint statement said.

The resulting change opens this fall’s 2013 pageant season to transgender women, it said.

“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 spokesman Herndon Graddick.

“We appreciate that (Trump) and his team responded swiftly and appropriately,” Graddick said.

Talackova, a 6-foot-1-inch blond Canadian, underwent sexual reassignment surgery four years ago. In a 2010 interview, she said she knew she was a girl at age 4. She said she started hormone therapy at age 14 and underwent sexual reassignment surgery at 19.

She won a regional beauty crown qualifying her for Canada’s national title, but she was then told the Miss Canada Universe pageant in Toronto on May 19 was only open to “naturally born females.”

“I am a woman,” Talackova said in a prepared statement she read to reporters in Allred’s conference room last week. “I was devastated and I felt that excluding me for the reason that they gave was unjust.”

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