Members of Scotland’s trans community have gathered today in Glasgow for a historic beauty pageant.
The Miss Transgender United competition, which is hosting its heats in six different cities across the UK, is visiting Glasgow this evening.
It is the first event of its kind ever to be held in Scotland. The heat, which is the only qualifier being held in Scotland, will be held in the Polo Lounge Nightclub in Glasgow’s Merchant City area. Nine contestants are taking part.
In addition to the usual mixture of themed rounds, participants will also be asked about their own lives and how they have promoted transgender issues.
The overall winner will receive the Alcorns Award, in memory of the late Leelah Alcorn, in addition to prize money of £5000 and a modelling contract.
The host will be Kimberley Verlangen, winner of Miss Benelux International Bombshell.
Opinion on beauty pageants can often be divided, but many have welcomed what has been called an “amazing platform” from which to highlight ongoing inequality and prejudice, as well as discrimination.
Many hope the pageant can act as a means of facilitating social change, and chellenging attitudes and misconceptions about transgender people.
Miss Transgender United is being hosted at a time in which trans issues are becoming more prominent in the news. A recent parliamentary inquiry has been launched to consider what barriers to full equality for trans people exist and how they can be remedied.
Transphobia has also been in the news, with the recent Caitlyn Jenner story provoking some intolerant reactions.
Against this backdrop, the Miss Transgender United organisers hope that their event will help empower transgender women, in addition to raising public awareness of the often complex issues affecting trans people.
One of tonight’s contestants, Jai Latto from Peebles, told Scotland on Sunday: “I want to win Miss Transgender United as I see it as an amazing platform to show people that there are people like me who live in very rural areas and small towns, who don’t have the facility, help or support I have.”
Latto had previously attempted to enter the Miss Earth pageant, but suffered the indignity of being disqualified on gender grounds.
Living in the Scottish borders, she describes how those living in rural communities can often feel unsupported. “I would say that living in the Borders has really affected the timescale, because there’s no groups for people like me down here, so I have to travel up to Edinburgh, and even there, there’s only a meeting of a trans group on the first Saturday of every month.”
However, in spite of this, she says her experience “couldn’t [have been] more positive” – something that she hopes comes across through her participation in Miss Transgender United.
The brain behind Miss Transgender United is Rachael Bailey, a head chef from Cardiff who has also worked in managing events, who envisaged the competition as a way of positively promoting trans equality.
“I hope the event will bring the transgender community in Scotland together, not just the girls taking part in it, but everyone who identifies with them,” she said. ““There were around 60 girls who applied but we have nine finalists. It’s been very important to spend time with the girls and make sure they are up for all the media attention, as it can be a lot to handle.”
She also explains that this is about a lot more than a beauty pageant. “Miss Transgender UK is a sociable enterprise donating 60% of net profits to LBGT charities and support groups across the UK. Our aim is to empower our transgender community in working together as special events managers bringing support and education together at all of our events.”
Tonight’s contestants include Alessandra Mae, who was born in the Philippines and migrated to ireland aged 14; Iwa Moto, a self-described “people person” who wants to be “a good role model”; Jennifer Lopezgomez, a 57 year old who is delighted to now be able to live “full-time as my True Girl Self, [which] is the most wonderful feeling”; Jennie Anne Robertson, whose message is to “be you”; Jai Latto, aged 22 from the Scottish borders; Tara Taylor-Cole, “a very simple girl at heart that loves being surrounded by nature and family”; Rihanna Murison, who descibes herself as “confident, independent and strong”; Natasha Smith, president of Nottingham Trent University’s Pride Society and the first openly trans president within the student movement; and Jacquie Demure, a 47-year old hairdresser from Glasgow
BBC3 is making a documentary on the pageant, and will be following it around the UK in the coming weeks.
You can vote online for the contestant of your choice.