Across Latin America, beauty pageants represent opportunity. Many women use these competitions as launching pads for new careers that they might not otherwise be able to access. As these competitions become more inclusive and provide room for transgender women to compete, they are also affording more possibilities to a vulnerable group of Latin American women and giving them a platform to advocate for trans rights.
Trans women participating in beauty pageants isn’t that new. Since 2004, Thailand has hosted the Miss International Queen, a pageant to celebrate trans beauty and talent. The competition’s mission is to promote trans equality in society and in the workforce, with the monetary profits donated to the Royal Charity AIDS Foundation of Thailand. However, in 2012, when Jenna Talackova became the first trans woman to participate in the Donald Trump-organized Miss Universe Canada competition, a major beauty pageant, we started to see a shift.
Talackova’s participation started a debate about the inclusion of trans women in beauty pageants around the world. While Miss Universe began to accept trans women competitors in 2012, a U.S. federal court ruled in 2019 that the Miss United States of America pageant could keep trans women from competing. Despite judicial and transphobic obstacles in their paths, many trans women have succeeded in competing in traditional beauty pageants around the globe.
Since Talackova’s appearance on the Miss Universe Canada stage, a few trans women have made history by competing in mainstream beauty pageants. The Philippines-born Kataluna Enriquez, for example, won the Miss Nevada title in 2021 and became the first openly trans woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant. When eliminated, Enriquez said she believed the pageant was simply not ready for a trans Miss USA. This year, Daniela Arroyo González will become the first out trans woman to compete in the Miss Universe Puerto Rico competition. Despite the challenges, one thing is certain: Trans women are fighting for their right to compete in beauty pageants, and their participation is proof of their resilience and resistance.
This is no different in Latin America, where trans women are also taking up space in these competitions. Below, we highlight four trans Latin American beauty queens who are pushing through transphobic barriers to show that Latine trans beauty, grace, smarts, and talent are alive and well and have a rightful place on any pageant stage.
Joanna Cifredo, Puerto Rico
Joanna Cifredo represented Puerto Rico in the Miss International Trans pageant competition in 2022. Cifredo is a community organizer and human rights activist from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, and she joined the Panamá-based competition eager to meet other trans women who were making a difference in their communities. “Where else can I spend a whole week with other empowered trans women,” she tells Refinery29 Somos.
Cifredo’s commitment to advocating for trans rights is remarkable: In 2021, the trans activist walked nearly 115 miles over the course of seven days to raise awareness of injustice and violence against Puerto Rico's trans community. Walking to remember the case of murdered trans woman Michelle Ramos Vargas, Cifredo’s Walk for Equity ended on September 30 when she arrived in the Capitol of Puerto Rico to demand the approval of a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ+ people living and visiting Puerto Rico.
The trans activist sees her participation in trans beauty pageants as an opportunity to extend the work she does for her community. “I saw it as a platform for my personal and professional development,” Cifredo says. “[It’s also] a great opportunity to bring visibility to the issues impacting trans people in my country and, if crowned, that would [give me] a really amazing platform to raise awareness about these different issues impacting trans people across the globe and to highlight the work that amazing trans activists are doing in their countries to address those issues.”
She adds: “I also hope this inspires a new generation of young trans people to be visible, to speak out, to tell their story.” Cifredo won the Impact award in the pageant, in honor of her activism back home.
Daniela Jiménez, Nicaragua
Daniela Jiménez is a 27-year-old business woman and trans activist from Nicaragua. She started competing in beauty pageants for trans women in her home country when she was 20, and she later participated in the same Miss International Trans pageant that Cifredo did. Jiménez is the first trans woman from the village of Sapoa Rivas to compete in an international beauty pageant.
Speaking to Somos, Jiménez says she believes beauty contests can be gender affirming for trans women: “For trans women, these pageants can show the world we are able to achieve whatever we want to, and our participation demonstrates that we are human beings, like everyone else.”
As a trans activist, Jiménez advocates for the passing of a gender identity law in her country’s congress. The law would allow trans people to self-identify their gender and change their name legally more easily.
For Jiménez, being a part of trans beauty pageants is a way to advocate for trans rights. “Trans women deserve respect like everyone else,” she says. “I hope someday, in my country, a gender identity law will be established. Currently, Nicaragua does not have such a law. This law would be essential for trans women in my country. I would like people to call me by the name I chose for myself.”
Ivanna Cázares, Mexico
Ivana Cázares won the Miss Trans Beauty Mexico pageant in 2019, and this year, she is competing in the Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand. The Miss Trans Beauty Mexico pageant seeks to raise awareness of the violence against trans women that takes place in Mexico, and Cázares took on the role of spokesperson for trans rights after she won the event.
“We want to bring a message to society of respect for the trans girls of Mexico,” Cázares told the Associated Press at the time. (Somos requested an interview with Cázares but received no response.)
Before leaving for the Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand, the contestant posted on Instagram that this is the start of a great dream, which she worked hard to achieve. “I feel very proud to represent my entire country,” Cázares wrote, “especially the trans community, make them visible and empower them before the world.”
Sofía Salomón, Venezuela
Sofía Salomón, a 25-year-old Venezuelan model, is the first transgender woman to compete in the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant. Miss Venezuela is one of the biggest beauty pageants in the world, and Venezuela itself is known as a pageant powerhouse, with seven Miss Universe titles and six Miss World victories. Salomón, who placed in the top six queens of the 2022 edition of Miss International Queen, hopes that competing in the national beauty pageant will bring visibility for trans rights in her country.
For Salomón, being loud and proud of her identity through beauty pageants will bring trans issues to the public eye. "I was in a restaurant here in Caracas and a person told me: 'Hey! Are you Sofía Salomón, the transgender girl who is going to participate in Miss Venezuela?' That is already echoing and that is what it is about: giving visibility to what nobody talks about,” she said in an interview with AFP. (Somos requested an interview with Salomón but received no response.)
Because Venezuela is a leader in the field of beauty pageants, Salomón’s ambition to become Miss Venezuela might open up these competitions to many trans women across Latin America. Either way, Salomón views herself as a triumphant trans woman already: “Whatever happens, I will continue to be a successful woman. It has always been that way.”