TORONTO -- The first-ever transgender contestant to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant strutted the runway Saturday night, making it to the penultimate round before losing her bid to win the title.
Jenna Talackova, 23, competed with 61 contestants and was among the final 12 contestants before failing to make the final five in the glitzy pageant.
Sahar Biniaz, 26, claimed the crown and advances to the international Miss Universe competition in December.
Talackova, who was one of four contestants named Miss Congeniality, was born a male and underwent a sex change four years ago. The Vancouver, British Columbia, native was initially denied entry to Canada’s pageant because she was not born female. Donald Trump, who runs the Miss Universe Organization, subsequently overruled that decision last month.
The 6-foot-1 (1.8-meter-1 centimeter) blond beauty, who towered over her fellow contenders while competing in the bikini and formal wear contests, garnered most of the attention Saturday night, soliciting loud cheering and howls each time she appeared on stage.
Talackova’s involvement in the pageant has drawn international attention since being denied entry and hiring high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred to represent her in her battle to be readmitted.
The rules of the contest run by Trump’s New York City-based organization say entrants must be "naturally born" females. But shortly after Talackova announced a news conference in Los Angeles with Allred, the Miss Universe Organization said in a statement on its Canada website that Talackova can compete "provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions."
Miss Universe organizers have not elaborated on the statement.
Allred said during Saturday’s pageant that Talackova shouldn’t feel too disappointed.
"She’s still a winner as far as I’m concerned," Allred said during an intermission. "She won an ‘herstoric’ civil rights victory and that I think is frankly more important than anything, any victory she would win, even representing Miss Canada."
Talackova is the child of a Czechoslovakian father and aboriginal Canadian mother. She has said that she knew early on she was in the wrong body. Her change of gender was hardly a secret before the event because she had competed in the 2010 Tiffany Miss International Queen Competition for transgendered and transsexual women in Pattaya, Thailand. In a video interview for that pageant, she said she had lived her life as a female since age 4, began hormone therapy at 14 and changed her sex at 19.
The controversy surrounding her participating in Miss Universe Canada erupted this spring after a blogger recognized her from the transsexual beauty contest in Thailand and posted about it.
Miss Universe publicity director Brenda Mendoza has said transgender competitors are now welcome at all of its pageants around the world.
But she says it’s being left to the individual franchises to determine if the recent policy change is carried out.