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Miss Universe to allow transgender women in pageants

NEW YORK -- The Miss Universe Organization is close to finalizing an official policy change that will allow women who are transgender to participate in its beauty competitions, according to GLAAD and the pageant competition owned by Donald Trump.

GLAAD first contacted the Miss Universe Organization on Saturday, March 24, after news broke that transgender contestant Jenna Talackova was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada competition. GLAAD called on the Miss Universe Organization to review Jenna's case, as well as open the competition to transgender women.

After unsuccessful attempts to reach Talackova personally, the Miss Universe Organization moved forward and announced last week it would allow Jenna to compete. To further demonstrate its commitment, the organization, in consultation with GLAAD, discussed a policy change that includes transgender women in time for the start of this fall's 2013 pageant season; a time when most of the competitions around the world begin to take place.

"For more than two weeks, the Miss Universe Organization and Mr. Trump made it clear to GLAAD that they were open to making a policy change to include women who are transgender," GLAAD spokesperson Herndon Graddick said. "We appreciate that he and his team responded swiftly and appropriately. The Miss Universe Organization today follows institutions that have taken a stand against discrimination of transgender women including the Olympics, NCAA, the Girl Scouts of America and The CW's 'America's Next Top Model.'

"Jenna and all of the LGBT advocates who have called for this change and spoken out in support of transgender women are to be commended. At a time when transgender people are still routinely denied equal opportunities in housing, employment and medical care, today's decision is in line with the growing levels of public support for transgender people across the country."

Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, also discussed the policy change.

We want to give credit where credit is due, and the decision to include transgender women in our beauty competitions is a result of our ongoing discussions with GLAAD and not Jenna's legal representation, which if anything delayed the process. We have a long history of supporting equality for all women, and this was something we took very seriously," Shugart said.

As a result of Talackova's case, GLAAD has worked with many national media outlets to profile transgender women. Actress, producer and transgender advocate Laverne Cox spoke out about the decision:

"I am so moved and excited that The Miss Universe Organization has sided with justice and equality by not only allowing Jenna to compete, but by also allowing other trans women to compete in the future. No one should have a glass ceiling on their dreams. It is my hope that this moment can begin to highlight other injustices trans people face so that they too may be eradicated," Cox said.

Cox can currently be seen in the film "Musical Chairs." She is the first African-American transgender woman to produce and star in her own television show VH1's "TRANSform Me." She is the first African-American trans woman to appear on a reality competition show, VH1's "I Want To Work For Diddy." She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, applauded the policy change.

"No one likes it when they're left out of something because of who they are. This is especially true for transgender people -- people like Jenna Talackova -- who are denied opportunities because they're told that who they are is 'unnatural.' So I get that Jenna probably still doesn't feel good about the situation. But it's a noteworthy thing for a group like the Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump to switch positions allowing Jenna to participate, and to commit to developing transgender inclusive rules. This is a good thing, and it's a sign of how more and more people get trans issues," Keisling said.

"We thank Jenna for standing up for herself and for all of us. Her case is just one in hundreds of examples where a person has something taken away -- a job, a house, or a loved one -- because they're trans. And not every trans person gets access to legal representation to help them. There are too many other stories of trans people who experience unbearable circumstances. The support Jenna has received must also support other trans people. And I believe that progress here can influence change in other places that impact our lives."