The first openly transgender Miss USA contestant, 27-year-old Kataluna Enriquez, was eliminated from the pageant before the round of 16.
Ms Enriquez was boosted by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, earlier on Monday night. “Kataluna represents the best of her community and our state and when she takes the stage, she’ll make history!” he tweeted.
Nevada Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen also praised Ms Enriquez, tweeting: “Kataluna is making history as the first openly transgender woman to compete in Miss USA, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to represent the Silver State.”
Ms Enriquez won the Miss Nevada crown in June, defeating 21 competitors at the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas. The win paved the way for her to compete at the Miss USA pageant at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday.
Ms Smith will move on to represent the US at the Miss Universe pageant in Eilat, Israel next month. The Miss Universe pageant system, which includes Miss USA, started permitting transgender contestants in 2012. Angela Ponce from Spain became the first transgender contestant to take part in the worldwide event in 2018.
Then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump sold the Miss USA competition to a Hollywood talent agency in 2015 after he was heavily criticised for racist remarks about Mexican immigrants that he made as he began his campaign for the presidency.
The slogan for the Miss USA contest is now “Pageantry Reimagined”.
Ms Enriquez, a Filipina American, has said that she creates her own clothing for the pageants.
“Pageantry is so expensive and I didn’t always have money,” she said in March. “I wanted to compete so now I design dresses for myself and other people.”
“Today I am a proud transgender woman of colour. Personally, I’ve learned that my differences do not make me less than, it makes me more than,” she said after winning a preliminary pageant in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I know that my uniqueness will take me to all my destinations, and whatever I need to go through in life.”
She started competing in transgender pageants in 2016 while working as a model, the paper reported.
“I wanted to share my story and present that I was more than just a body,” she said. “With pageantry, people think it is only about beauty. But it’s how you present yourself, what you advocate for, what you’ve done and the goals you have.”
Ms Enriquez began taking part in traditionally cisgender pageants at the start of 2020 and while she is pushing for trans rights, she has said it’s not her main focus.
“One thing that is important for me is inclusivity, diversity and representation. It’s something I did not have growing up and is still lacking in today’s world,” she said, according to the paper.
“Growing up, I was often told that I was not allowed to be myself, or to be in spaces that I was not welcome,” she said during a contest to qualify for the Miss Nevada pageant. “One of the obstacles I encounter every day is just being true to myself.”
In March, she said she was bullied during her time in high school because of her gender identity and that she wasn’t permitted to use the girls’ or the boys’ bathrooms.
“I’ve been in therapy since I was 10 and I love being able to understand myself and other people’s perspectives,” she said. “I’m an advocate for mental health.”
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