LOS ANGELES, Calif. - A woman who was originally barred from competing in the Miss Universe Pageant because she was born a man says she was devastated when she was told she would be excluded because she isn't a "natural-born woman."
Jenna Talackova, of Vancouver, appeared at a Los Angeles news conference Tuesday, the first time she's spoken to the media since the controversy broke out late last month. She was accompanied by Gloria Allred, a high-profile human rights lawyer in the United States.
Allred held up a copy of Talackova's Canadian passport that states she is a woman — as do her birth certificate and driver's licence — and declared the pageant's rule requiring contestants to be born women "blatant discrimination," antiquated and grounded in fear and prejudice.
"I am a woman," Talackova told the media at the widely televised news conference.
"I was devastated and felt that excluding me for the reason they gave was unjust."
Allred said if the pageant doesn't change its rules and allow Talackova to compete, a team of lawyers in New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver will set off legal action.
Talackova is a vibrant, beautiful, young woman, the lawyer said as her client sat quietly, eyes downcast, beside her.
"Jenna shared the same hopes and dreams of every other contestant. She hoped that one day she would wear the Miss Universe crown throughout the world," Allred said.
Allred said Donald Trump — who owns the Miss Universe organization — needs to step out of his comfort zone and state clearly if Talackova will be allowed to compete.
The 23-year-old tall, slim, blond woman was originally accepted to take part in the May 19 Miss Universe Canada Pageant, but was later told she couldn't participate.
Talackova has never hidden her status and in fact took part in the 2010 Miss International Queen competition in Thailand, where she explained in a media interview that she knew as young as four that she was a female.
She had gender-reassignment surgery when she was 19.
Late Monday, the New York-based pageant organization issued a statement saying Talackova could take part in the event "provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada."
Allred called the statement wimpy and wishy-washy because it didn't answer the question of whether Talackova could proceed to the international competition if she won in Canada.
"Will Jenna be allowed compete or not? Will (Trump) eliminate this abhorrent rule, or not,?" Allred demanded.
Trump responded to Allred's request on TMZ, the celebrity news website, saying Talackova is welcome to compete.
"She can take her shot, she can maybe win and maybe she won't win," he said.
"There will be no apology whatsoever and frankly, if she competes, that's wonderful and if she doesn't want to compete, because maybe she thinks she can't win, that's fine also. I couldn't care less."
He said if the rules applied in Canada and the United States, then they would apply everywhere else, indicating that if Talackova advanced to the Miss Universe pageant she would be allowed to compete.
Trump wasn't asked if he would change the rules around allowing only natural-born females to enter the contest.
He said ticket sales for the Canadian competition were through the roof, adding "everybody wants to be there."
In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Miss Universe Organization said it's evaluating its rules to ensure that type of issue does not occur again.
"There is no need to further 'evaluate'," Allred responded. "The rule is blatantly discriminatory and it is time for Mr. Trump to say that he will get rid of the rule."
The rule requiring a contestant to be "naturally born female" appears to still be in effect in other countries around the world, Allred said.
Brenda Mendoza, a spokeswoman for the organization, said pageant officials have been trying to reach out to Talackova for days to confirm her status. She said if she's considered a female in Canada then she will be able to take part.
"All she needs to do is give us a call."
Talackova said she's always dreamed of representing Canada in the Miss Universe competition.
"I have never asked for any special consideration. I only wanted to compete," she said.
She said she wants Trump to clearly state that the naturally-born female rule be erased.
"Because I do not want any other woman to suffer the discrimination that I have endured."
Mendoza couldn't say if the natural-born female rule would be scrapped.
"Obviously this is a big policy issue, and something that we're evaluating and taking seriously. It's very complicated because of the fact that we have 100 franchises."
Queens University law professor Kathleen Lahey, who specializes in discrimination and gender issues, said proof that Talackova is classified as a woman is all she needs to be able to prove her case in a Canadian court.
"It seems to me unthinkable that any court in Canada would uphold the position that the organizers were taking," she said in an interview.
Lahey said the level of interest in the case shows people are thinking about and debating the issue of equal treatment.
"I think that she certainly has conducted herself as a worthy competitor," Lahey said of Talackova.
As for the pageant's category of natural-born female, Lahey said it would be an illegal classification in Canada.
"To try to create subclasses of women, would be a violation of her rights to sex equality."
-- By Terri Theodore in Vancouver
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