Miss Universe pageant will allow transgender women

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/ Source: The Associated Press

Transgender women will be allowed to participate in the Miss Universe beauty pageant next year, officials announced Tuesday, a week after they ruled a trail-blazing 23-year-old could vie for the crown this year.

Pageant officials said they are working on the language of the official rule policy change but expected final word to come soon. Trials for next year's Miss Universe pageant begin this summer.

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The move comes five days after the organization said that Jenna Talackova could compete in the Miss Universe pageant this year. Talackova, a Vancouver resident, underwent a sex change four years ago after being born a male. The advocacy group GLAAD called on the Miss Universe Organization to review her case, as well as open the competition to transgender women.

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"We want to give credit where credit is due, and the decision to include transgender women in our beauty competitions is a result of our ongoing discussions with GLAAD," said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization. "We have a long history of supporting equality for all women, and this was something we took very seriously."

Contest officials have been working closely with GLAAD to change the policy, and the advocacy group on Tuesday praised the decision and the work by Talackova to remain a contestant.

"The Miss Universe Organization today follows institutions that have taken a stand against discrimination of transgender women including the Olympics, NCAA, the Girl Scouts of America and The CW's America's Next Top Model," said GLAAD's senior director of programs Herndon Graddick. "At a time when transgender people are still routinely denied equal opportunities in housing, employment and medical care, today's decision is in line with the growing levels of public support for transgender people across the country."

Angola’s Leila Lopes said she hopes her victory in the Miss Universe pageant will enable her to help her own country, ravaged by poverty and war, as well as combat HIV around the world.

Talackova's sex change initially led organizers in Canada to disqualify her from the 61st Miss Universe Canada pageant in May, citing a rule that she must be "naturally born" a woman.

Talackova pleaded with the pageant's leaders to drop the rule.

"I am a woman," Talackova said last week. "I was devastated, and I felt that excluding me for the reason that they gave was unjust. I have never asked for any special consideration. I only wanted to compete."

Donald Trump, who runs the Miss Universe Organization, wished her the best of luck.

The official rules will have to be approved by Trump and NBC, which co-own the contest.