She didn’t take home the crown, but Spain’s Angela Ponce made history this year as the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant on Dec. 16 in Bangkok, Thailand.
It was a relatively quiet, but strikingly progressive inclusion in an industry long lambasted for its regressive politics and representations—and even more so in the pageant was long owned and associated with Donald Trump.
Since assuming the presidency, Trump has actively engaged in further marginalizing the already beleaguered trans community. His administration is rolling back rights in the military and attempting to dismantle other civil rights, including banning the use of the term “transgender” by the CDC, and even seeking to return gender exclusively to binary classifications (male or female).
But Spain is clearly trying to do better, crowning model and activist Ponce Miss Universe Spain last summer. She beat out 22 other contestants.
It was a watershed moment, as was Ponce’s ascension to the international platform of Miss Universe, the first trans woman to do so since the 66-year ban on transgender contestants was lifted in 2012.
“It’s important that people can see you to feel that they have a positive reference,” Ponce told Glamour magazine. “It’s important that people see women like me to know that the ideas they may have about transgender people aren’t always true. ... It’s about [fighting for] the right to be,” she added. “It would diminish bullying and prejudice and the pain that society puts on us, unintentionally, for not knowing more about being transgender.”
“I always say: having a vagina didn’t transform me into a woman. I am a woman, already before birth, because my identity is here [gesturing to her head],” she told AFP in a separate interview.
Speaking on Trump, who owned the Miss Universe pageant until 2015, the 27-year-old Ponce admitted she’d love to have a sit-down with the discriminator-in-chief:
“I really don’t know what might cross his mind,” she told Glamour. “[B]ut I would like to have a conversation one human being to another and try to explain to him that the rights I am fighting for are simply the rights of every human being. ... I would try to make him feel in his heart the importance of understanding other people. And I would try to help him understand with the position that he’s in, he could help save lives.”
We’re not sure if Trump is actually human (has this been verified?), but we support you, Miss Spain.
Despite this year’s Miss Universe pageant having a strong focus on diversity and inclusion, it was not without controversy this year as Miss USA, Sarah Rose Summers, appeared to be mocking non-English-speaking contestants Miss Vietnam and Miss Cambodia in the days leading up to the ceremony. Though Summers claimed her remarks were well-intended, it was a moment that pointedly magnified the xenophobia the United States is increasingly becoming associated with.
With that dust-up barely subsided, Ponce’s inclusion became an even more refreshing counterpoint to what many consider an increasingly outdated event. And it’s one she didn’t take at all lightly—at one point, she was considered a favorite to win.
“I’m working very hard to win and I would be very proud to achieve that,” she said to Glamour, “not only for my country nor for myself but for all the people whose situation in the world could change if they called my name.”
Ponce, unfortunately, didn’t crack the Top 20, and the crown would ultimately go to Catronia Gray, Miss Philippines. But the pageant refused to let Ponce’s history-making presence go unnoticed, airing a pre-taped segment in tribute to their first transgender contender, according to the New York Post.
“I’m here to represent the diversity of humans in the world,” Ponce said in the recording. “My hope is for tomorrow to be able to live in a world of equality for everyone, simply for us all to understand that we are human and that we must make all our lives easier together. That reality for many people is going to change.”
We certainly hope so. But for now, Ponce’s presence is a significant start.
“I don’t need to win Miss Universe,” she said, as reported by the NY Post. “I only need to be here.”