Miss Spain breaking barriers as first transgender Miss Universe hopeful

Carrying a bold message of inclusion, transgender rights and a sharp rebuke to US President Donald Trump, Miss Spain's Angela Ponce is blazing a trail as the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe's 66-year history.

Miss Spain breaking barriers as first transgender Miss Universe hopeful
Photo: AFP

The willowy beauty is making history since the pageant reversed a longstanding policy in 2012 that participants must be “naturally born” women.    

Explaining her broad appeal the plain-speaking 27-year-old says “who hasn't suffered from prejudice? Who hasn't had to deal with bullying?”   

Outside the walls of Miss Universe — whose finals will be held early Monday in Thailand's capital Bangkok — the transgender community continues to be marginalised and misunderstood, with high rates of suicide.

A leaked White House report said President Trump's administration is considering pushing changes to the law to define gender by biological traits at birth, while trying to block transgender people from military service.

Ponce is defiant about how to respond to Trump, a former owner of Miss Universe, and others who would try to box her in by physical traits.   

“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,” she told AFP, gesturing to her head.

She also took issue with the classification of trans people by large sections of society based on prejudice and narrow assessments of gender.   

“Outsiders say what I can and cannot do, what I am and what I am not,'” Ponce said.

“No, I'm sorry. To be a woman is your identity. It doesn't matter if you are white, black, if you have a vagina… if you have a penis.”    

Ponce, who works with a foundation in Spain helping children struggling with stigma linked to being trans, is aware of the visibility she brings to the Miss Universe platform.

Her performance has so far drawn praise, from her portrayal of a flamenco dancer during the national costume portion of the competition to her strut down the runway in a shimmery mermaid-like gown in the evening dress category.   

“You can empower yourself like I have and turn something negative into your biggest strength,” she said. 

“Children are born without prejudices and I think that if we talk to them about diversity from a young age… we can create a new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful.”   

This year's event, which critics say is a throwback to stereotypes of the the pre #MeToo era, has largely preached a message of inclusivity.   

It boasts an all-women panel of judges made up of business leaders and former Miss Universe titleholders. 

But gaffes still abound — Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers got in hot water for appearing to mock the contestants from Vietnam and Cambodia on social media for not being able to speak English.    

She has since posted an apology on instagram, saying she did not “intend to hurt” her fellow competitors. 

Monday's event will see last year's winner Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa crown her successor among 94 countries in a live televised event hosted by American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey and supermodel Ashley Graham.   

By AFP's Dene-Hern Chen

READ ALSO: Spanish model makes history as first trans woman crowned Miss Universe


Spain backs bill to allow transgender people to easily change gender and name on ID

Spain's left-wing government on Tuesday approved a draft bill that would allow any transgender person over 16 to change their gender and name on their official ID document by presenting a simple statement.

Spain backs bill to allow transgender people to easily change gender and name on ID
Photo: Jose Jordán/AFP

If adopted by parliament, the bill will make Spain one of the few countries in Europe to permit gender self-determination.

“We’ve approved a bill which will guarantee real and effective equality for trans people and will ensure important rights for LGBTI people that are currently being violated in our country,” said Equality Minister Irene Montero during a press conference.

According to a draft of the bill seen by AFP, any Spaniard over 16 “will be able to apply to change the sex of their entry in the civil registry office”.

They will also be able to change their given name.

Crucially, the change will be made on the basis of a simple statement, dropping a previous requirement for them to first submit medical reports or undergo hormonal treatment.

Unveiled during Madrid’s Pride Week, the bill could even allow those as young as 14 to make the change, but only under certain conditions.

“During this Pride Week, we are making history with a law that will take a giant step forward for LGBTI rights and particularly the rights of transgender people,” Montero said.

“We recognise the right for self-determination of gender identity and undertake ‘de-pathologisation’ meaning trans people will no longer be considered ill and won’t be required to have any kind of psychiatric or medical report in order to be recognised,” she said.

But the legislation sparked tensions between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists and their hard-left junior coalition partner Podemos.

Earlier this year, deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said she was “particularly concerned by the idea gender could be chosen on the basis of will alone, thereby jeopardising the identity… of the rest of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants”.

The two sides eventually agreed to include a cooling-off period following presentation of the application, with the applicant required to reconfirm their wish three months later.

“This law puts us at the forefront in Europe in terms of recognising the rights of LGBTI people and particularly of trans people,” Montero said.

According to the LGBTI group ILGA, at least 25 UN member states “allow for legal gender recognition without prohibitive requirements.”

But only around 15 countries allow transgender people to change their status on the basis of a simple declaration.

In some countries, the process can take years and may include requirements such as a psychiatric diagnosis, hormone treatment, gender reassignment surgery or even sterilisation.