“Should transgenders be allowed to compete in beauty pageants?”

When the judge posed this question to me during the final round of the 2019 Miss Florida Competition, a wave of anxiety swept over me. Standing before a diverse audience of hundreds of people with varying perspectives, I grappled with the weight of this question and how my response would impact my standing in the competition.

The context of this question was set by Angel (later known as “Angela”) Ponce’s “groundbreaking” participation as the first transgender contestant in the 2018 Miss Universe Competition. At the moment, I opted for a diluted answer, suggesting that the decision should be left to transgender participants. Reflecting on it now, however, my response would be a firm and unequivocal “No.”

While I won the title of Miss Florida 2019 that night, my answer bothered me for months. The assault on women’s spaces, legally protected under Title IX, is alarming, with biological men asserting entitled access to women-only environments, including pageants.

What Pageants Represent

Women’s beauty pageants and scholarship programs, such as the Miss America Organization I participated in, give young women in every state an opportunity to embody the “ideal” American woman through style, scholarship, service, and success — first for their community, then for their state. If they’re lucky enough, then for their nation.

For me, pageants represented femininity, in all its glorious complexity, taking center stage. Whether displaying the beauty, grace, and confidence needed to win the evening gown phase, or commanding an audience through the talent portion, each element helped me achieve a deeper understanding of the layered, powerful, and most of all unique qualities every woman is born with. It was a girls-only club where, despite the intense competition, camaraderie among contestants permeated the atmosphere. We cheered each other on, collectively celebrating the essence of our femininity.

A Concerning Trend

Unbeknownst to me, the judge’s biased, yet prescient question the night I won Miss Florida predicted a concerning trend now present in beauty pageants, just four short years later.

We must fight harder than ever to ensure that true women are not erased, but celebrated and empowered for the innate and profound qualities that are instilled in them from birth, down to their very DNA.

Trans tyranny has now hit every stage of competition across a spectrum of organizations. Brían “Bree-ann” Nguyen was crowned as the first transgender local titleholder to Miss New Hampshire (Miss America Organization). Kataluna Enriquez took home the title of Miss Nevada USA in 2021 (Miss USA Organization.). International trans titleholders from this year’s Miss Universe pageants included Marina Machete of Portugal and Rik “Rikkie Valerie” Kolle of the Netherlands.

By inviting biological males into a space historically reserved for biological females, is the pageant world disenfranchising women, the heart and soul of their organizations?

Miss Universe Files for Bankruptcy

Just one day before the start of last week’s Miss Universe pageant, Thai tycoon and transgender celebrity Anne Jakrajutatip announced that Miss Universe had filed for bankruptcy, after accepting transgender contestants in 2022. Jakrajutatip is part of JKN Global Group, the company behind the Miss Universe pageant, which bought the organization for $20 million from IMG Media in 2022.

Prior to that announcement Jakrajutatip had vowed to revolutionize Miss Universe. He (“she” to much of the world) described the purchase as “a strong, strategic addition to our portfolio.” As he told Cosmopolitan, “Why was an organization that claimed to be about female empowerment owned exclusively by men?” So instead of men owning the organization, Jakrajutatip allowed men to compete in the organization?  For the record, Miss Universe under Jakrajutatip was still male-owned! Because that makes sense, right?

Following the crowning of Marina Machete, a trans-identifying male, as Miss Universe Portugal, the Miss Universe Organization told CNN, “Trans women are women, full stop. We are here to celebrate women, full stop. This has been true for more than a decade, and we’re proud to have made this change very early on, compared to other programs.” The pageant certainly didn’t live up to its promise of “celebrating women” after JKN’s share price fell over 80%, after promoting male participants.

Congratulations, Miss Universe. You have officially “budlighted” yourself.

Not a Safe Space

According to The Miss Universe Organization’s website, the pageant is “a safe space for women to share their st0ries and drive impact personally, professionally, and philanthropically.”

But allowing biological men to compete in pageants is far from fostering a “safe space” for real women. Its effect can be quite the opposite, actually. A woman must agree that “trans women are women. Full stop.” Otherwise the temptation to become insecure, self-conscious and intimidated by threats from cancel culture looms large.

Women in these competitions work tirelessly to prepare. It is insulting and demoralizing to see a biological male, masquerading as a woman, taking home the title. It mocks and belittles our very femininity to watch a male dress up in an evening gown, walk around in heels, and pretend he’s a woman. Just because he “feels female” does not mean he has the right to compete against us.

I agree with Emily Austin, host of “Varney & Co” who said, “I think the outrage about a trans woman coming to Miss Universe and preaching, ‘Bring the power back to women,’ couldn’t be more of an oxymoron. If you want to empower women, the way to do it is not demeaning women and belittling women by allowing men, or biological men who became a woman, to come into an industry like sports, like beauty pageants, come all dolled-up plastic — [they’re] beautiful men, by the way — and start dominating women’s industries. That’s the opposite of women’s empowerment.”

 Women’s Spaces are Under Attack

Whether it’s Riley Gaines racing against swimmer William “Lia” Thomas, a female field hockey player in Massachusetts getting her teeth knocked out mid-game by a boy on the opposing team, or transgender males winning women’s beauty pageants, women’s spaces protected under Title IX are completely under attack. There is no greater time than for women to fight for the protection of the locker room, the sports field, sororities, women’s organizations, schools, and now, women’s beauty pageants.

Don’t Erase Women

If I could go back to my on-stage question on the final night of Miss Florida, today, my answer would be very different. Seeing that the future of women’s rights is at stake, I would look the judges in the eye and say with complete confidence, “By conforming to the transgender-inclusive agenda, as real women, we are self-sabotaging our hard-won rights and protected spaces guaranteed under Title IX. We must fight harder than ever to ensure that true women are not erased — but celebrated and empowered — for the innate and profound qualities that are instilled in them from birth, down to their very DNA. We must continue to crown titleholders who are ‘Queens of Authentic Femininity’ and exemplify the true inner and outer beauty of our God-given womanhood. Thank you.”

 

Michaela McLean Wilkes is a spokesmodel, podcaster, young women’s advocate, and award-winning dancer. In 2019, Michaela won the title of Miss Florida and placed in the Top 15 at Miss America 2020, which aired live on NBC. Michaela is also a faith and culture contributor and social media specialist for Liberty Counsel and Liberty Counsel Action. Michaela hosts the “Be Brave and Beautiful Podcast,” which empowers young women to live confidently and lead courageously from a biblical worldview. Follow her ministry at @bebraveandbeautiful on Instagram. 





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