updated 03/26/2012 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/26/2012 AT 12:00 PM ET
Should transgender women be allowed to compete in female beauty pageants?
That’s the question at the center of a heated scandal involving one Canadian pageant contestant. Jenna Talackova, 23, was born male but has identified as a female since age 4. She began hormone therapy at 14 and underwent gender reassignment surgery at 19.
On Friday, Talackova, a Vancouver resident, was booted from the Miss Universe Canada competition “because she did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form,” the organization said in a statement. “We do, however, respect her goals, determination and wish her the best.”
According to The Province newspaper, Talackova was selected among 65 finalists for the 2012 competition. She was removed from the competition despite there being no mention of rules regarding sex changes, The Province reports.
“I am very disappointed with the decision taken by the Miss Universe … organizers,” Talackova said in a statement released Monday. “However, I will look to turn this situation into a positive so that other people in a similar situation are not discriminated against in the future.”
In a 2010 interview for Thailand’s Miss International Queen, a pageant for transgendered women, Talackova was asked whether she regards herself as transgender or as a woman. “I regard myself as a woman with a history,” she said.
‘Rules Very Clear’
But the head of the pageant says there are rules regarding a contestant’s gender at birth. The national director of Miss Universe Canada says that Talackova indicated on her registration form that she was born a female but later admitted that she was born a male, India Today reports.
“She feels like a real girl and she is a real girl. She didn’t expect people to question it,” Denis Davila told the publication. “She was hoping we could put her back in the competition, but the rules are very clear, and there’s no way we can go back on it.”
Reactions to Talackova’s story have been mixed. Detractors maintain that only natural-born women should be allowed to compete in traditional women’s beauty pageants. But the ousted beauty queen also has her supporters – more than 20,000 of them and counting.
A change.org petition has netted 20,171 signatures in an effort to reverse the decision to disqualify Talackova from the the Donald Trump-owned pageant. Talackova is expected to release a statement this week after speaking with her lawyer.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the Miss Universe Organization said: “As with any competition, the Miss Universe pageant has rules which apply to all of its franchises around the world. Such rules include, but are not limited to citizenship, age, and marital status requirements. Additionally, the rules currently state that all contestants must be naturally born females. After review, organizers discovered that Jenna Talackova falsified her application and did not meet the necessary requirements to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant.”