In a first, transgender woman competes in Miss Universe competition

Miss Spain, 27-year-old Angela Ponce, broke barriers in the 66-year-old competition, which this year was held in Bangkok, Thailand.
Image: Miss Universe pageant
Miss Spain Angela Ponce competes during the final round of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, December 17, 2018.Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
By Tim Fitzsimons

While she didn’t win the crown, Angela Ponce broke barriers on Monday in the 67th Miss Universe pageant. The 27-year-old Spanish beauty became the first transgender woman to ever participate in the international competition.

“I never imagined (I would make it to Miss Universe) because I lived in a society where everyone said I couldn’t do that,” Ponce told NBC’s "Today" through a translator. “And I didn’t have the information to realize that my dream to be a woman could ever actually be realized.”

Miss Spain Angela Ponce visits the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, with other Miss Universe contestants on Dec. 11, 2018.Narong Sangnak / AP

Prior to this week’s pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, Ponce beat 20 other contestants in June to be crowned Miss Universe Spain. In the final competition, however, she did not make it to the final round.

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Catriona Gray, a 24-year-old model from the Philippines, came in first place Monday, with Miss South Africa and Miss Venezuela coming in second and third, respectively. This is the fourth win for the Philippines which previously took the crown in 2015, 1973 and 1969.

Shortly after being crowned Miss Universe Spain earlier this year, Ponce said, “If my going through all this contributes to the world moving a little step forward, then that's a personal crown that will always accompany me."

Hailing from southern Spain, Ponce won her first pageant in 2015, just three years after the Miss Universe pageant rejected Jenna Talackova from Canada’s Miss Universe pageant because she was not a “naturally born” female. Talackova threatened legal action, and the organization — then owned by Donald Trump — relented and changed the rules to allow transgender women to compete.

It was an uphill battle: Ponce said she faced discrimination as a model and was rejected from jobs because of her gender identity. Fortunately, Ponce said her family embraced her identity and supported her decision to live openly as a woman.

“I always had the support of my family, and they’re my foundation so that my life could unfold,” Ponce told NBC’s "Today." “They saw to it that I did not have a traumatic childhood. They are my strength.”

In another milestone for the Miss Universe pageant, the competition did away with male judges and featured, for the first time, an all-female panel of judges.

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Reuters and Associated Press contributed.