Story at a glance

  • Elle Smith, this year’s Miss USA winner, said she was honored to take the stage with Kataluna Enriquez, the competition’s first openly transgender contestant.
  • Enriquez was eliminated from the pageant on Monday, failing to advance to the top 16. She said pageant organizers “were just not ready” for a trans woman to compete.
  • Enriquez has spoken out about the discrimination she faces as a transgender competitor in pageants before, and she told NPR over the summer that a doctor was once sent to verify whether she was a woman before she could compete.

This year’s Miss USA pageant winner, Elle Smith, said it was “an honor” to compete alongside Miss Nevada, Kataluna Enriquez, the first openly transgender woman to compete in the annual competition.

"Kataluna is an absolute gem, and it was an honor to take the stage with her," Smith told Insider Tuesday after being crowned Miss USA. "I see her as a trans woman, but I see her as a woman."

“She had every right to be on that stage. She was a competitor. She's one of the most amazing people you'll ever meet. I think, for her, it was another example of important representation, and I was so proud to take the stage with her,” she added.

Smith, who competed in the Miss USA pageant as Miss Kentucky, will head to Israel to compete for the Miss Universe title later this month.


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Enriquez was eliminated from the Miss USA pageant on Monday when she failed to advance to the top 16.

“I think they were just not ready,” she said of the pageant organizers in an interview with Yahoo News. Judges during her closed-door interview portion of the pageant questioned her solely on her transition, she said.

"It was disappointing to me because I had so much more to offer, I had so much I wanted to talk about,” she said. “Others were asked about politics, climate change, so it was highly disappointing for me because I expected more."

In addition to being the first openly trans woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant, Enriquez was also the first openly transgender woman to be crowned Miss Nevada, where she lives. During that pageant, held in June, Enriquez wore a rainbow-colored gown she designed herself in recognition of Pride Month.

"My win is our win," she wrote in an Instagram post, addressing the LGBTQ+ community. "We just made history. Happy pride."

Enriquez told Insider over the summer that her win in Nevada meant even more to her as a trans woman because it happened on the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the foundation of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

"I fought to win so I can represent myself and represent my community," she said at the time. "I hope by winning, people can take the time to understand us, those who are misunderstood and underrepresented. It's time that we change the conversation and seat everyone at the table."

Enriquez has been open about the discrimination she faces as a transgender woman in the pageant world. She told NPR shortly after being crowned Miss Nevada that she had not been allowed to have a roommate while competing in another pageant outside of the state when organizers learned she was trans. A doctor was also sent to certify that she was a woman.

"My win is not just a win for the trans community," she said at the time. "It's a win for all women to be represented."


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Published on Dec 01, 2021