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For the first time ever a contestant from Burma took part in the annual Miss International Queen beauty pageant on 1 November.
A total of 16 countries, such as the United States, South Korea, Brazil and Japan, were represented in this battle of glittering tiaras which is highly popular every year at the Thai beach resort of Pattaya, about 130 kilometres (81 miles) south of Bangkok.
But more than just a beauty contest, Miss International is a platform to promote the acceptance and civil rights of transgender and transsexual persons.
Tanya Maung, 28, represented Burma, and said that when she was younger, she was shunned by her family. But as Burma opens up to the wider world, she said she now finds people are now more accepting of her.
“At the beginning of my transition, my family had real problems with me. I had to fight hard for my rights. It’s such a difficult life in this situation. But nowadays, people are more accepting and many are proud of who I have become.”
South African contestant Anastasia, 37, said she wants to emphasize that people should be open-minded.
“Everybody has a misconception when they associate transgender people with a freak show or think that we are just here to fulfill fantasies. Actually, I’m a flight attendant, I fly for a very well recognized airline and I think that people should not judge.”
Head judge of the competition, Dr. Seri Wongmonta, said the panel is searching not only for beauty, but for intelligence as well.
“We emphasise the contestant’s beauty first, followed by their intelligence and opinions. Combined, you discover the prettiest and smartest girl.”
In the end, 18-year old Marcelo Ohio from Brazil took the top prize and was crowned Miss International Queen 2013.
“I’m very happy to the people who supported me. I want to thank them.”
Ohio will receive 300,000 Thai baht, a one-year residency at a hotel resort in Pattaya, and will serve as a goodwill ambassador to promote equal rights for the transgender community.
The first and second runner-ups were Ms. USA, Shantell D’Marco, and Ms. Thailand, Nethnapada Kanrayanon, who will receive 70,000 THB (2,333 U.S. dollars) and 50,000 THB (1,666 U.S. dollars). Other titles included best evening gown, best talent and best costume and went to Ohio, Ms. Malaysia, Nur Sajat Fariz and Ms. South Korea, Arisa.
Proceeds go to educating communities on transgender issues, the Thai Red Cross and supporting tourism in Thailand.