After coming in second in the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump pulled off a significant victory in the New Hampshire primary. As his campaign moves forward, more of Trump’s questionable business and personal practices are being critically examined. Revelations about his four bankruptcies and misuse of eminent domain have raised questions about not only his business practices but his judgment as well.
One episode in his long and dubious career took place in 2012 when Trump, owner of the Miss Universe pageant, was forced to change the organizations’ official rules so that a 23 year-old transgender woman, Jenna Talackova, could compete. This was not an easy defeat for the 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
Talackova sought to compete in the Miss Universe Canada contest. A 6-foot-1-inch blond from Vancouver, she had lived as a female since the age of 4 years, started hormone therapy at 14 and, at 19, underwent male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.
Talackova had earlier attempted to compete in the Miss Vancouver contest, but was barred due to being a transgender person. In 2012, she entered the Miss Universe Canada and reached the finals, but was disqualified because she was born a male. The contest’s director, Denis Davila, pulled the plug, insisted that she had violated the organization’s rules requiring a contestant to be a “naturally born female” and had falsely stated on her application that she was born a female. “We have to have the facts straight. There is no discrimination here at all,” he insisted. “You can look at it the way she wants to look at it, but we all have to follow the same rules.”
Talackova’s expulsion provoked a firestorm of popular outrage, including charges that she had been discriminated against. It led to 23,000 people signing a Change.org petition insisting that the contest reverse the decision. The battle further escalated when Talackova retained the assistance of, Gloria Allred, a Beverly Hills attorney, who focused media attention on Trump. “She [Talackova] did not ask Mr. Trump to prove that he is a naturally born man or to see photos of his birth to view his anatomy to prove that he was male,” Allred mocked.
Going further, Allred argued that how Talackova became a female was not important. “The Miss Universe competition is designed to find the one person in the world whose human qualities make them worthy of the Miss Universe crown and title,” Allred insisted. “Jenna is beautiful in every way. Her life story will undoubtedly inspire people throughout the world.”
Faced with the unexpected bad publicity, Trump made a rapid retreat. Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s executive vice president and special counsel, announced: “The Miss Universe Organization will allow Jenna Talackova to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.” Unfortunately for Trump, her Canadian passport, birth certificate and driver’s license identify Talackova a female.
In an interview on the TV show, Good Morning America, Trump declared: “I think Jenna should focus on running up in Canada and seeing how she does in Canada and then, if she does well, she has a chance to become what many, many young women all over the world want to be and that’s Miss Universe.” He added, “That should be her focus.”
“I did not know that she had a lawyer and especially Gloria Allred,” Trump later said. “In fact, had I known it was Gloria Allred, I probably would not have reversed my decision because, you know, Gloria is easy to beat.” He argued, “The fact is we went by the laws of the country and the laws are very clear and, based on that, about two days ago, we decided to let her compete.”
But Trump’s capitulation did not go far enough for Talackova or Allred. Talackova wanted Trump and the other contest’s organizers to drop all gender-based eligibility rules because, she insisted, they were discriminatory. “I want Mr. Trump to state that this rule will be eliminated because I do not want any other woman to suffer from the discrimination that I have endured,” she argued. Allred added fuel to the fire, demanding, “Mr. Trump, admit that you are wrong and get rid of your Trumped-up rule.”
Talackova finally did participated in the Miss Canada contest, along with 65 other contestants, but did not win. She did receive a “Miss Congeniality” acknowledgement. Her very public stand was recognized in her hometown when was selected to be co-grand marshal of the 2012 Vancouver Pride Parade.
Under Trump’s initial agreement, individual countries were not required to go along with the Canadian decision. Nevertheless, over the last few years, change has slowly begun to recast the beauty contest. In 2013, Kylan Arianna Wenzel was the first transgender woman to participate in a U.S. event, as part of the Miss California USA pageant. Born in South Korea, she is a mixed-race woman, the child of an American father and a South Korean mother.
In 2015, Carla Marie Madrigal, a transgender woman who had been crowned Queen Philippines Universe 2015, was selected to represent the Philippines in the Miss Universe contest. Ironically, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, who had originally won the Miss Philippines contest, was disqualified because she was of mixed-raced, a Filipino-German, parentage; a similar decision was made against Miss Japan, Ariana Miyamoto, because she too had mixed-race parents, a Japanese mother and an African-American father.
In these cases, Trump insisted, “the goal of Miss Universe is to choose a world beauty that represents her country to the fullest extent. Having a half and half candidate from any participating country is not in keeping with the Miss Universe ideals.” Will this be the next battle to move Trump’s dubious beauty pageants into the 21st century?
Sixty years ago, in 1952, George Jorgensen, a 26 year-old former private in the U.S. Army, traveled to Denmark to undergo a gender reassignment procedure, what was then known as a “sex change” operation. Returning to New York as Christine Jorgensen, her daring gained a famous Daily News headline: “Ex-GI Becomes Beauty.”
In 2011, the Williams Institute, a research organization specializing in sexual orientation and gender identity issues, estimated that there were 700,000 transgender people in the U.S. Gay and transgender rights have been formally acknowledged by a number of recent Supreme Court decisions, U.S. government actions and changes in popular values, represented by Chelsea Manning and Caitlyn Jenner. Nevertheless, trans people continue to experience discrimination and social stigma with regard to employment, housing, health care, the juridical system (especially in prison) and simply using a public restroom.
One can only hope that the media will question Trump about his confrontation with the transgender beauty.