Vancouver's Jenna Talackova was born female. That's what Vancouver-based Trans Alliance Society chair Marie Little and NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert insist.
The 23-year-old Talackova made international headlines and found herself at the centre of controversy when she was disqualified from Miss Universe Canada 2012 on March 23. The pageant's website states that Talackova, who was one of 65 finalists chosen on March 12, will no longer compete "because she did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form".
According to news reports, the competition's rules state that contestants must be a "naturally born female". Although she reportedly filled out the entry form stating she was born female, she was removed from the Donald Trump–owned pageant when organizers identified her as a trans person.
The Miss Universe Canada organization did not respond to an interview request from the Straight by the time of this posting.
Talackova is currently seeking legal advice about her removal from the pageant. An online petition was launched to request that the decision to remove Talackova be reversed.
In a video interview for the Miss International Queen Competition, a trans beauty pageant in Pattaya, Thailand, Talackova said she identified not as a trans person but as "a woman, with a history". She said she was certain she was female from about age four, underwent hormone therapy at age 14, and had surgery at age 19.
But advocates and activists argue that she was in fact born female.
"What happens when a child is born is the doctor looks at the genitals and writes 'M' or 'F' on the birth certificate," Little told the Georgia Straight by phone. "But I think the brain is at least an important an organ as the genitals. And every study I've seen indicates that the masculine and feminine structures of the brain are formed before birth. So she was born with a feminine brain."
"I would say she is born female," he said by phone. "It's taken a while for science and society to catch up to that fact…. If you are a female, even if you've got male bits that you were born with, you have that right to transition, to be who you really are. Nature works in funny ways. Sometimes our minds are mismatched with our bodies, and science has shown that pretty clearly."
While separate pageants for trans people do exist, Little pointed out that such contests are not necessarily on par with mainstream competitions.
"Realistically, the prizes are not the same. The publicity is not the same," she said. "And even if a prospective employer in a modelling agency or whatever, if they see, 'Oh, you've won the Miss Trans Whatever' instead of 'You've won Miss Canada or whatever', they're going to cast you as a trans person in a movie, not as a woman. So I think this whole attempt to separate trans people into a separate community is really harmful discrimination."
Little assisted Herbert with a transgender rights bill called the Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act that Herbert introduced to the legislature on May 26. The proposed provincial legislation would add "gender identity" and "gender expression" to the code, thereby explicitly protecting B.C. trans people from discrimination.
In fact, the night before hearing about Talackova's removal, Herbert had been working with the Canadian Bar Association at a conference about transgender human rights in Canada, and had been discussing his provincial bill and former MP Bill Siksay's federal transgender rights bill (which was introduced in February 2011 but has since been dissolved).
"To see a case like this, it makes a pretty good argument for why we do need these explicit rights put in, even if they're already read into the Charter and the Human Rights Code," he said. "From what I've seen, there's a huge lack of information and education out there for people about who transgender Canadians are."
He said that he had written to B.C. attorney general Shirley Bond if she would support the bill or not.
"What she wrote back, she said, 'Thank you for your work for human rights. We will consider this when we're updating the Human Rights Code'," Herbert said. "So then I wrote back, and I asked, 'Well, when are you going to do that?' Well, there are no plans to do that at this time. So basically, I was told a flat-out 'no', that the Liberals are not interested in doing anything on this, in a polite way."