Reminiscent of the banker’s offer in the popular television game show, “Deal or No Deal,” pageant fans have been curiously asking whether or not the participation of transgender women in national beauty competitions will finally be a done deal. As the opening of the 2021 pageant season is expected in the coming weeks and months (the crownings that we have witnessed so far this year were mostly meant for the year 2020, staged belatedly because of the COVID19 pandemic), and with other countries already accepting participation from the sector, pundits are waiting to see if the Philippines is now ready to join in the bandwagon.
Miss Universe Philippines (MUPh) National Director Shamcey Supsup-Lee was first to give an opinion on the matter, when she was quoted as saying: “as long as they have legal documents to prove they are now females and they already underwent gender reassignment surgery.” While initially igniting hopes of the LGBTQIA plus as an indirect way of granting their right of representation in the country’s search for a delegate to the Miss Universe contest, the statement is interpreted another way by those who choose to read between the lines. They believe the statement is the Miss Universe 2011 Third Runner Up’s polite way of saying “no,” especially with her use of the word “legal.”
Such interpretation is now growing more solid bases, with MUPh Creative Director Jonas Gaffud’s recent clarification on the same issue. Just like Supsup, Gaffud did not directly shoot down the possibility of seeing transgenders joining the MUPh: “If our law allows it. Right now, it doesn’t. They cannot change genders on passport or birth certificate. It is not easy I know but hopefully more understanding will come to light in the near future.”
It will be recalled that the Miss Universe Organization made history in 2018 when it allowed the participation of Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, a transgender woman, to compete in the pageant. While ending up unplaced, Ponce said that her greatest victory was just “being there” on the Miss Universe stage that night. That year, it was the Philippines’ Catriona Gray who won the crown. Earlier, in 2016, the subject started to become a hot subject of different debates when the Miss Universe Canada Organization first allowed the entry of a transgender woman in the national search for the country’s representative to the pageant.
For its part, the Miss World Philippines Organization (MWPO) gave a more direct response to the query of its potential acceptance of transgender participants in their pageant. MWPO President Arnold Vegafria recently came out with a statement saying: “The global Miss World Organization has made it very clear that only natural born females can qualify for the title, these transgender candidates are automatically disqualified from winning the Miss World crown.”
Such an opinion is shared by Carousel Productions, the organization behind the prestigious Miss Philippines Earth and Miss Earth competitions. According to its matriarch Lorraine Schuck, there is no reason for the group to change any of their rules and guidelines to accommodate participation by transgenders: “Miss Earth remains to be a traditional beauty pageant, and in the spirit of fairness to the rest of the women participating and to keep a level playing field, we find it in the best interest of the organization to follow the current rules, policies and guidelines of previous years.”
Back in 2016, Stella Marquez Araneta, Chairperson of the Binibining Pilipinas Charities, which produces the country’s longest-running beauty pageant already made a stand on the issue. Published reports at that time quoted her as saying: “All are welcome to apply, male, female, drag queens, transgender women or male.”