TORONTO - Transgender trailblazer Jenna Talackova lost her bid to become Miss Universe Canada over the weekend, but said Sunday that her history-making appearance has awarded her a much more meaningful role as a civil rights champion.
"I never thought I would be wearing (the) crown of an advocate and it feels really good, I feel very honoured," Talackova said one day after losing the Miss Universe Canada title to fellow Vancouverite Sahar Biniaz.
"I was training for eight months, I was very dedicated and all of a sudden I was disqualified and for something that was so unjust. And now I'm a heroine in a lot of people's eyes and it's just made me so humbled and I wake up pinching myself."
The Vancouver blond fell just outside the winner's circle Saturday night, when she was cut after making the Top 12.
Talackova said Sunday she was "a little bummed out" for a few seconds, but quickly put the race behind her and felt grateful for the chance to compete and raise awareness of gender inequality.
Born Walter Talackova, the 23-year-old holistic nutrition student underwent sex change surgery four years ago. She was initially barred from competing until pageant owner Donald Trump said he would allow her to take part.
On Sunday, Talackova's high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred called on Trump to revoke any Miss Universe franchise that excludes transgender contestants.
"It's clear, it's simple: If they discriminate on account of gender identity they should not be allowed to have their candidate participate in the Miss Universe pageant worldwide," said Allred, who flew in from Los Angeles to support her client.
"Simple as that."
The Miss Universe Organization has said it would allow transgender competitors at any of its contests, but could not guarantee that local franchises would carry out the new policy.
Its president, Paula Shugart, said Allred's demands oversimplify the issue.
"This is not her argument to decide," Shugart shot back from Las Vegas where she was preparing for the Miss USA contest June 3.
"Last I heard she is a lawyer in the United States and she should know there are laws all around the world that you have to respect."
Shugart accused Allred of attempting to highjack the spotlight for personal publicity.
She says Miss Universe tried to invite Talackova into Miss Universe Canada for more than a week before Allred held a press conference April 3 that criticized Trump's handling of the scandal.
"We have made a very, very big step here, we've made a step without Gloria Allred's involvement, we made a step before we even knew she was involved and if anything she has hindered the process," Shugart said.
"This is obviously something that is very, very new and we're really taking it on a day-by-day basis."
Despite the high-profile battle, Talackova said she's gained strength and self-esteem, even as criticism escalated when the pageant neared.
"It got pretty aggressive during these seven days but I was ready for it. My whole life I've had to put up with some sort of criticism and that's OK. I don't feel bad about it, I don't hold grudges against anybody," said Talackova, whose appearance onstage Saturday drew some boos from the audience.
"I feel electrified, I feel really great about everything, I wouldn't change anything."
Talackova said a documentary crew followed her backstage at the pageant, but couldn't say yet what the footage might be used for.
She said she's contemplating her next step — which includes modelling, acting and plans for a book.
"I'm turning my journals of six years into a self-help book so hopefully that will help a lot of people around the world. I'm definitely going to go into some film and modelling and hopefully that helps a lot of people, too."
Allred said Talackova has settled comfortably into being a role model.
"She's become a civil rights pioneer and we're very proud of her. Even if she didn't win (Miss Universe Canada) she's still a winner in my book. She's still won in the important civil rights battle which, I think, is frankly even more important than the crown of Miss Universe Canada."
Talackova said she hopes the rest of the world will open more doors to transgender people and that she can inspire pageant hopefuls to follow their dreams.
"All I can say is practice, embrace your individuality and give it your best shot," she said. "Because eventually one of us will win."