Vancouver's Jenna Talackova becomes a civil-rights hero

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When you think of the giants who've advanced human rights, certain names immediately come to mind: Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, and Jackie Robinson.

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Here in B.C., our list of trailblazers includes Frank Calder, Douglas Jung, Kevin Brown, Ujjal Dosanjh, Rosemary Brown, Tim Stevenson, and Jane Rule.

Now, you can add another name: Jenna Talackova.

The Vancouver model has won a stunning victory for transgender rights by forcing the Miss Universe pageant to allow all women to compete, including those who have undergone a sex change.

Talackova's dignified fight galvanized the public across North America, with tens of thousands of people signing petitions supporting her campaign.

In the process, she demonstrated that she has just as much poise as any beauty queen.

Talackova showed the world there's a huge number of people who will no longer tolerate discrimination against transgender people.

I remember not so long ago, in 2008, when the board of the Vancouver NPA refused to let a transgender politician, Jamie Lee Hamilton, put her name in front of party members for nomination to become a candidate for park board.

At the time, the NPA claimed that the decision had nothing to do with her gender. That view wasn't shared by the small number of people who showed up at a rally at Little Sister's Book & Art Emporium on Davie Street.

I recall being shocked at the time that there wasn't more public outrage over this decision by the NPA.

Since then, the B.C. Liberal and federal Conservative governments have refused to legislate an end to discrimination against transgender people.

But attitudes are quickly changing, no small thanks to Talackova and others in the trans community who are standing up for their rights.

Talackova is only 23. She has lots of time—and growing influence—to leave her mark on the world in other ways in the coming years.

Who knows? Perhaps one day, Talackova will appear on a postage stamp, just like some of the other civil-rights pioneers listed above.

Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.

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