More than 30,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding that 23-year-old transgender woman Jenna Talackova be allowed to compete in Miss Universe Canada — but pageant coordinators still say no way. Talackova was disqualified last week after she confessed that she was born a boy, and had undergone gender reassignment surgery at 19. Because Miss Universe Canada rules state that all contestants must be "naturally born females," Talackova "did not meet the requirements to compete," the organization said in a statement. Here, a guide to the controversy:
How did pageant coordinators find out about Talackova?
Although Talackova looks very much like a woman, pageant director Denis Davila apparently "had his suspicions" about whether she was born female, and confronted her about it on March 13. Talackova admitted to having been born a boy, but it wasn't the first time she had done so: During an interview at a 2010 beauty competition in Thailand, she publicly said that she was not born a girl.
Is this discrimination?
It might be. But even though the 6'1" Talackova is recognized as a woman by the Canadian government, because Miss Universe Canada is a private organization, it's unlikely that it will be forced to allow transgender contestants to compete in its pageants.
Does Miss Universe Canada have defenders?
Absolutely. Those who agree with the pageant's director say Miss Universe Canada has every right to say no to Talackova. "Much like in sport," says Jesse Kline at Canada's National Post, "people should be allowed to compete based on their natural abilities." And while "we should all be working towards a more inclusive society... being inclusive also means allowing people and organizations to set their own rules."
And what do opponents say?
That this is unfair discrimination. As prevalent as surgeries like breast enhancement, liposuction, and rhinoplasty are, how can the pageant's organizers rightfully disqualify anyone based on their having undergone gender reassignment surgery? asks Mara Aguilar at impre.com. "Why are [cosmetic] operations different than sex changes?" For her part, Talackova says she's "not giving up," and hopes to change the rules so others don't have to face the same problem in the future.
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