It was an act of defiance that made Rosa Parks a civil-rights hero for refusing to give up her seat for a white bus passenger. She wasn't the first, but her actions galvanized political action in 1955.
This year, a Vancouverite unintentionally did something similar when she, a transgender woman, did nothing more than merely enter the Miss Universe Canada pageant. When organizers disqualified Jenna Talackova, claiming she was in defiance of the regulations because she was not physically born female (something heavily contested by advocates), she was swept up in an international media frenzy. Her story electrified the Internet with debate and petitions as she enlisted legal help to be reinstated into the competition.
But how does she feel about being called a civil-rights hero?
"I hate labels, and if you wanna call me that, great," the statuesque beauty told the Georgia Straight at the official launch of Pride Week at Vancouver City Hall. "Honestly, I did it out of pure vanity, and it turned into changing people's minds across the world and the Miss Universe organization. So I can't believe it happened. It just happened without even thinking it would happen. So I feel very proud of it. I'm very humbled."
Talackova was chosen to be one of three grand marshals at this year's Vancouver Pride Parade (to be held on Sunday [August 5]).
On the other hand, she does recognize that she has responsibilities now, and she is willingly embracing them.
"I was thrown this kind of opportunity to be a role model. And now I have a TV show coming out, so that's just going to broaden more society's eyes to trans people. And see we're just as normal as everyone else."
The experience has helped her see the potential she has, and the opportunity she has to give others what she lacked growing up.
"I never realized the power that I did have. And I realize that as a youth, I was such a wild child that I wish I had someone to look to. I looked to Harisu from Korea, the first transgender pop star and everything. And I didn't have anybody from North America to look up to," she said. "Like c'mon, RuPaul—he's a drag queen, he's not transgender, right? So I believe I got this role and I'm going to do my best with it. I'm going to do my best reaching out to young kids because this is my obligation and I see that now."
She's also been able to see how her story has helped the lives of others around the world.
"I've received weekly mail from like South America, people in Asia, saying that they finally came out to their families because of my story. So it has made an impact."
Contrary to confusion earlier this year, she does have a reality TV show in the works. While she didn't divulge any specific details, she noted that she hopes the second season of the show will focus more on travel.
She's also doing a commercial for shoe designer Stewart Weitzman next month. She did want to try out for Victoria's Secret but now doesn't have the time for it, due to her TV show and other projects.
However, there is a cause she does plan to strip down for.
"I wanna pose nude for PETA eventually, after the first season of the show. Not Playboy, but PETA."
That's because one of her greatest passions is protecting the environment and animals.
"I'm all about the environment," she said. "I eat vegan, raw diet, and I'm studying holistic nutrition. I believe in environmental integrity. It's something…I feel the most saddened by. I feel like we don't treat our world correctly. I think the pipeline and all these things are just going to damage our world. We're not looking for a means to better energy sources, and we're going to reap it for our kids and we're going to ruin it for them. I believe in animals and I believe in the environment."