More than 100 transgender men have entered the Miss Italy pageant this week, according to an activist leading a protest against recent comments by the pageant’s organizer, who said trans women wouldn’t be allowed to compete.
The comments came after another European pageant, Miss Netherlands, crowned its first transgender winner, Rikkie Valerie Kollé, this month. About a week later, Patrizia Mirigliani, the official organizer of Miss Italy, told an Italian radio station that Miss Italy wouldn’t allow trans women to compete.
“Lately, beauty contests have been trying to make the news using strategies that I think are a bit absurd,” Mirigliani said, according to the Italian news outlet Il Primato Nazionale.
She added that Miss Italy has historically allowed only people who were assigned female at birth to enter, “probably because, even then, it was foreseen that beauty could undergo modifications, or that women could undergo modifications, or that men could become women,” according to Il Primato Nazionale.
Trans activist Federico Barbarossa, who lives in Bari, a town in southern Italy, said that he became angry when he saw Mirigliani’s comments but that he was “also kind of amused by it, because I was like, ‘Yeah, well, I was assigned female at birth, but they would reject me because I look like a boy, and they would consider me as a boy,’” he said in an interview with NBC News.
Barbarossa decided to enter the pageant under his deadname, or the name he was given at birth, as a form of protest in solidarity with trans women. Barbarossa shared a screenshot of an email he received confirming his registration on Instagram, and then the local LGBTQ nonprofit group he works with, Mixed LGBTQIA+, shared his entry on Facebook with a statement encouraging other trans men to do the same.
The campaign went viral online, Barbarossa said, and he estimates that more than 100 trans men have entered the pageant so far. He said some told him they have even been called to selections, which is the next step in the process to find contestants across the country.
Miss Italy organizers “really have to go through every single application,” Barbarossa said. He hopes the protest will “maybe lead them to think better next time.”
“I like to think I’m a little part of Italy’s progress in this sense,” Barbarossa said.
Mirigliani and Miss Italy organizers didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
More beauty pageants have started to include trans women in recent years. In 2018, Angela Ponce became the first trans woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. Then, in 2021, Kataluna Enriquez became the first trans woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant after she was crowned Miss Nevada. Some countries, such as Mexico and Thailand, have held separate beauty pageants for trans women.
Barbarossa said he thinks beauty pageants try to exclude trans women in part because they simply don’t understand them or have false ideas about what it means to be trans.
“They would never think that a trans person might even aspire to win a beauty pageant, because we’re seen as this kind of, like, three-headed monster, and I think a part of it is that so many people have never seen trans women or trans men or trans people in general,” he said.
He said excluding trans women from beauty pageants or school sports sends the message that “trans women are not women,” which has a ripple effect on how they are treated and on state and national policy.
“The result of it is just transphobia,” Barbarossa said. “It kind of adds up to a level where the U.S. is kind of representative right now, where every state is passing anti-trans laws.” Twenty-two states have banned trans students from competing on the school sports teams that align with their gender identities, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.
Barbarossa described Italy’s government as the “most far right” it has had since World War II. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni denounced what she called “gender ideology” and “the LGBT lobby” during her campaign. Her government has barred same-sex parents from being listed on their children’s birth certificates if they aren’t biologically related.
Barbarossa said that it appears the Miss Italy organizers are aware of the protest, because they’re speaking with some of the trans men who have been called to selections, but that he hasn’t personally received a call.
“I didn’t get any message which leads me to think I’ve been blacklisted from them,” he said, and then he laughed.
He said he hopes the organizers and those who want to exclude trans women from other spaces will at least talk to trans people and hear their perspectives.
“They are so focused on biology and bodies, and it’s often forgotten that there are people inhabiting those bodies,” he said.