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Transgender contestant loses beauty pageant, wins civil rights test

Transgendered contestant Jenna Talackova takes part in Miss Universe Canada competition in Toronto, May 19, 2012. Talackova was originally disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada contest because she was not a "naturally born female". Talackova, 23, who underwent gender reassignment surgery when she was 19, was then reinstated to the Canadian competition last by businessman Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe organization.


Transgender trailblazer Jenna Talackova lost her bid to become Miss Universe Canada over the weekend, but said Sunday that her history-making appearance has awarded her a much more meaningful role as a civil rights champion.

"I never thought I would be wearing [the]crown of an advocate and it feels really good, I feel very honoured," Ms. Talackova said one day after losing the Miss Universe Canada title to fellow Vancouverite Sahar Biniaz.

"I was training for eight months, I was very dedicated and all of a sudden I was disqualified and for something that was so unjust. And now I'm a heroine in a lot of people's eyes and it's just made me so humbled and I wake up pinching myself."

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Ms. Talackova fell just outside the winner's circle Saturday night, when she was cut after making the Top 12.

She said Sunday she was "a little bummed out" for a few seconds, but quickly put the race behind her and felt grateful for the chance to compete and raise awareness of gender inequality.

Born Walter Talackova, the 23-year-old holistic nutrition student underwent sex change surgery four years ago. She was initially barred from competing until pageant owner Donald Trump said he would allow her to take part.

On Sunday, Ms. Talackova's high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred called on Mr. Trump to revoke any Miss Universe franchise that excludes transgender contestants.

"It's clear, it's simple: If they discriminate on account of gender identity they should not be allowed to have their candidate participate in the Miss Universe pageant worldwide," said Ms. Allred, who flew in from Los Angeles to support her client. "Simple as that."

The Miss Universe Organization has said it would allow transgender competitors at any of its contests, but could not guarantee that local franchises would carry out the new policy.

Its president, Paula Shugart, said Ms. Allred's demands oversimplify the issue.

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"This is not her argument to decide," Ms. Shugart shot back from Las Vegas where she was preparing for the Miss USA contest June 3.

"Last I heard she is a lawyer in the United States and she should know there are laws all around the world that you have to respect."

Ms. Shugart accused Ms. Allred of attempting to highjack the spotlight for personal publicity.

She says Miss Universe tried to invite Ms. Talackova into Miss Universe Canada for more than a week before Ms. Allred held a press conference April 3 that criticized Mr. Trump's handling of the scandal.

"We have made a very, very big step here, we've made a step without Gloria Allred's involvement, we made a step before we even knew she was involved and if anything she has hindered the process," Ms. Shugart said.

"This is obviously something that is very, very new and we're really taking it on a day-by-day basis."

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Ms. Talackova said she's contemplating her next step — which includes modelling, acting and plans for a book.

"I'm turning my journals of six years into a self-help book so hopefully that will help a lot of people around the world. I'm definitely going to go into some film and modelling and hopefully that helps a lot of people, too."

Ms. Allred said Ms. Talackova has settled comfortably into being a role model.

"She's become a civil rights pioneer and we're very proud of her. Even if she didn't win [Miss Universe Canada] she's still a winner in my book. She's still won in the important civil rights battle, which, I think, is frankly even more important than the crown of Miss Universe Canada."

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