Miss Universe pageant 2023 featured two trans women – it sparked bitter debate online

Now, the organization allowed transgender contestants, and some fans are saying the participation of trans beauty queens is “sad.”

In 2012, the Miss Universe pageant – now owned and operated by transgender woman Anne Jakapong Jakrajutatip – announced that openly transgender women who won their national titles are allowed to compete.

Six years later, Spain’s Angela Ponce competed in 2018, making history as the first-ever trans contestant in Miss Universe.

Speaking with Time ahead of the competition, Ponce said, “I’m competing because it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. I’m showing that trans women can be whatever they want to be: a teacher, a mother, a doctor, a politician and even Miss Universe.” Referencing the less progressive members of the audience, she continued, “I’m not trying to impose anything on anyone. I’d never try to change anyone’s culture or way of life. But by competing I’ll make trans people more visible for everyone, which is a big step.”

Though Ponce failed to advance to the finals, she made a huge leap by clearing the runway for other LGBT candidates.

With the exception of Italy, which still has a ban on trans contestants, some countries across the world are loosening qualifications for national pageants.

Miss Portugal, Marina Machete, and Miss Netherlands, Rikkie Valerie Kollé, both made history as the first transgender women to claim their national titles.

In November 2023, the two women shared the stage with 82 other beauties to fight for the crown in the 72nd Miss Universe pageant, held in El Salvador.

And Machete made history again as the first trans woman to place in the top 20.

“Making it to the top 20 at Miss Universe was an amazing experience,” writes Machete in an essay published by Business Insider. “I’m very happy for the little girls and young women that are at home watching now because they get a whole new and different perspective of women’s beauty being celebrated on TV and on as big of a platform as Miss Universe.”

Sharing that she was (mostly) welcomed warmly, Machete adds that she was grateful for the fans and support of her community. “I did get negative and dark messages that were horrible and unacceptable, but I feel there is a need to focus on the positive because that’s what shined through at the end of the day.”

After Machete’s victory, some people took the opportunity to offer their own judgments on the contestants.

One person criticized the pageant organizers in Portugal for allowing a transgender woman to compete: “What’s the point of having an all-female pageant where they let people of the other sex compete? Shouldn’t they change the name of the contest? Do you think they devalued the woman (sic) at this point? Really you guys should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Another says Machete’s participation in the pageant is wrong: “Sad for real women everywhere! Also, sad that the only way you can win a contest is to pretend to be somebody you’re not.”

Not letting the hateful comments bring her down, the beauty queen focuses on the support and praise from the general population that fill her social media with loving comments.

Gushing over an Instagram photo, where she’s seen wearing a striking red gown on stage at the Miss Universe contest, one fan writes, “Years pass to have a queen like you. I’m from Venezuela and you’re amazing, I admire you so much. your country must be proud to have you what a privilege, great queen.”

“Thank you,” writes another. “[You] filled an entire universal community that you represented apart from your country with a lot of pride and tears…”

A third says, “You’re an inspiration for me!”

Just weeks before the November 2023 pageant, Thai media mogul, Anne Jakapong Jakrajutatip, who operates Miss Universe under JKN Global Group, filed for bankruptcy. The woman, who purchased the pageant only the year before, aimed to make it more inclusive. Under the leadership of JKN, the pageant allowed wives and mothers to join the competition (as of 2023). And in 2024, Miss Universe is eliminating its age limit and opening the invitational to women over 28.

According to BBC, JKN is trying to resolve a “liquidity problem” and is set to appear in Thai Bankruptcy Court on January 29, 2023.