More than 90 contestants will compete for the title of Miss Universe 2023 on Saturday night, but not all of them are biological women.
Two transgender competitors will have the opportunity to capture the crown after winning qualifier pageants in their home countries. The male-born contestants—Marina Machete of Portugal and Rikkie Valerie Kollé of the Netherlands—are vying at the 72nd annual pageant, to be held in San Salvador, El Salvador.
The pageant provides “a safe space for women to share their stories and drive impact personally, professionally, and philanthropically,” according to the organization’s website.
Miss Universe began allowing transgender contestants in 2012 “in spite of, not because of, legal threats,” when a male-born Canadian competitor sued, CNN reported. It was not until 2018, however, when the first transgender contestant—Angela Ponce, representing Spain—actually made it to the pageant. Ponce finished out of the Top 10.
For 19 years starting in 1996, Donald Trump was the majority owner of the Miss Universe Organization. Since then, the organization has undergone two changes in ownership. In 2015, Trump sold Miss Universe to WME/IMG Talent Agency, Forbes reported. The organization was subsequently acquired by Anne Jakapong Jakrajutatip of the JKN Global Group in late 2022.
Jakrajutatip is a transgender activist and Thai business tycoon who described the acquisition as a “strong, strategic addition to our portfolio.” A little over a year later, Miss Universe filed for “business rehabilitation” (bankruptcy), just last week on Nov. 8, Fox Business reported.
The franchise could face a backlash similar to that experienced earlier this year by Anheuser-Busch, whose Bud Light beer brand lost customers and market share after a running a short-lived marketing campaign featuring a transgender influencer.
Jakrajutatip insisted, however, that Miss Universe will provide “a topnotch experience” to fans and contestants, Fox Business reported.
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