Miss Universe has played a special video tribute to Angela Ponce, who failed to win the contest but broke new ground as the first transgender woman to take part in the competition.
The 27-year-old beauty queen was unable to reach the final 20 on Sunday (December 16) but during the tribute—which played after the finalists’ opening statements—she said: “I don’t need to win Miss Universe. I only need to be here.”
“She’s smart. Driven. Beautiful. But her path has been anything but ordinary.”
— Ashley Graham
Six years after Miss Universe was opened to trans contestants, Ponce was praised by co-host and model Ashley Graham, who said in the video that she was “everything you’d expect from the reigning Miss Universe,” according to E! News.
“She’s smart. Driven. Beautiful. But her path has been anything but ordinary. And nothing short of extraordinary.”
Trans Miss Universe contestant Angela Ponce breaks new ground and makes a statement
Ponce, who won Miss Spain in June, was competing against 93 other contestants for the title in Thailand, which was awarded to the Philippines’ Catriona Gray.
“Outsiders say what I can and cannot do, what I am and what I am not. No, I’m sorry. To be a woman is your identity.”
— Angela Ponce
And she attracted plaudits for her depiction of a flamenco dancer in the national costume category, before sashaying down the runway in a mermaid gown during the evening dress segment of the contest.
Before the competition started, she used her platform to advocate for trans equality to AFP, telling the world: “I always say: having a vagina didn’t transform me into a woman.”
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“I am a woman, already before birth, because my identity is here,” she continued, gesturing to her head.
“Outsiders say what I can and cannot do, what I am and what I am not. No, I’m sorry. To be a woman is your identity.
“It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, if you have a vagina… if you have a penis.”
Ponce added: “You can empower yourself like I have and turn something negative into your biggest strength.
“Children are born without prejudices and I think that if we talk to them about diversity from a young age… we can create a new generation of human beings who are raised a lot better, more tolerant and respectful.”
Miss Universe competitor Angela Ponce also spoke out against Donald Trump
Earlier this month, Ponce sent a message to anti-LGBT President Donald Trump, telling TIME before Miss Universe started that she was “showing that trans women can be whatever they want to be: a teacher, a mother, a doctor, a politician and even Miss Universe.”
Addressing the Trump administration’s anti-trans actions, Ponce said her victory would be an important symbol in a contest many still associate with the leader.
She said: “More than a message to him, it would be a win for human rights. Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long.
“If they give me the crown, it would show trans women are just as much women as cis women.”