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Transgender Miss Universe contestant devastated by rules row, she says

By Marina Landis, CNN
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Organizers say Talackova can participate if she meets certain requirements
  • The organizers did not elaborate on them
  • Earlier, they said she could not compete because she was not a "naturally born female"
  • Talackova underwent gender reassignment surgery at 19

New York (CNN) -- A Canadian beauty pageant contestant who was disqualified when the Miss Universe Canada organizers discovered she was transgender said Tuesday she had been devastated by the decision and wanted a clear change in the rules.

After initially disqualifying Talackova, organizers of the Miss Universe beauty pageant reversed course late Monday, saying she can participate.

In a statement, the Miss Universe Organization said Jenna Talackova can compete provided "she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions."

The statement, however, did not elaborate on what the requirements were.

Canada's Jenna Talackova (right) at the Miss International Queen 2010 beauty pageant in Pattaya, Thailand.

The 6-foot-1-inch blond model told a news conference Tuesday of the pain the row had caused her.

"I am a woman. I was devastated and I felt that excluding me for the reason that they gave was unjust," she said.

Talackova, a 23-year-old Vancouver resident, also called on Donald Trump, who owns the Miss Universe competition, to state "in plain words" whether she will be able to compete and go forward to the Miss Universe final if she wins her country's contest.

"I have never asked for any special consideration. I only wanted to compete," she said.

"I also want Mr. Trump to clearly state that this rule will be eliminated because I do not want any other woman to suffer the discrimination that I have to endure."

Speaking to CNN Tuesday, Trump said that according to the laws of Canada and the United States, Talackova should be allowed to enter the pageant.

"So she will be entering the Miss Canada pageant, but we went strictly by the laws," he said.

"As with any competition, the Miss Universe pageant has rules that apply to all of its franchises around the world. Such rules include, but are not limited to, citizenship, age, and marital status requirements. Additionally, the rules currently state that all contestants must be naturally born females," the Miss Universe organization said.

Those rules are not posted on the Miss Universe website.

High profile feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, speaking alongside Talackova, also said Trump needed to clear up the confusion over Talackova's participation.

"We need a clear answer -- not a wimpy, wishy-washy type of answer -- but something that we can take to the bank. Will Jenna be allowed to compete or not? Will he eliminate this abhorrent rule or not?"

Allred said Talackova, who until Tuesday had not spoken to reporters, was considering all legal options.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, commended the pageant organizer's decision Monday night.

"The Miss Universe Organization made the right decision and has taken an important first step," the group said.

Talackova was one of the 65 finalists selected to contend for the title of Miss Universe Canada and the honor of representing her country in the Miss Universe competition.

But organizers told her last month she could not compete because she lied about having undergone sexual reassignment surgery and did not meet requirements for the pageant.

At the time, the Miss Universe Organization said current rules state that all contestants must be a "naturally born female."

In a 2010 interview in Thailand, where she was competing for Miss International Queen, a competition for transgender women, Talackova said she knew she was a girl at age 4. She said she started hormone therapy at age 14 and underwent sexual reassignment surgery at 19.

After Talackova's disqualification, social media users flooded the Facebook page of Miss Universe Canada with comments criticizing the decision.

A petition started on the social change website Change.org garnered more than 41,000 signatures calling for organizers to reverse their ruling.

The 61st annual Miss Universe Canada Pageant will be held in Toronto on May 19.

CNN's Chris Boyette and Alan Duke contributed to this report.

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