Anyone who has suffered through an episode of TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras" knows of the strict rules placed on those participating in the pageant world. Those who have sat through more than one episode understand that those rules tend to be universal in the bigger, bolder glitz pageants. Judges are looking for what they call the "total package" woman — or girl in the case of "Toddlers and Tiaras" — and judge contestants on their appearance and poise on stage.
Two larger pageants have been making headlines lately: the Miss Universe competition and the Mr. Gay World competition. Both cases are signs of the growing rate of equal rights for homosexuals and transsexuals in the U.S. and around the world.
Those of you currently reading this newspaper are probably media literate enough to know the story of a transsexual woman by the name of Jenna Talackova. If the name does not ring a bell, perhaps the story will. Talackova, according to Timescolonist.com, was disqualified from the Miss Universe competition last month for not being a "naturally born" woman. After hiring a lawyer and fighting back, Talackova is now allowed to compete again. Pageant officials are working on changing the wording of the official rule policy, and final word on those changes should be coming out soon, according to The Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, the Mr. Gay World pageant took place on Easter Sunday and ended with Mr. Gay New Zealand claiming the crown. South Africa is the first African country to host Mr. Gay World, which is not that surprising considering it has allowed same-sex couples to marry and adopt children since 1994, according to The Huffington Post.
You read that right — South Africa is ahead of us as far as human rights go. Granted, it is still struggling with those rights. According to AllAfrica.com, there are still brutal attacks against gays and lesbians. These attacks include corrective rape of lesbian women.
Regardless of the bigots protesting both pageants, I am pleased to see that the pageant industry has started to recognize that these are people who should be treated just the same as everyone else. Talackova has opened up a huge pageant to other transsexual women who otherwise would not be allowed to compete. In a world of pageants that traditionally demands homogeneous perfection, the fact that these contestants are allowed to participate shows a huge shift in the cultural idea of beauty. Just giving transsexuals a chance to participate and shine on stage will provide additional role models for children regardless of their sexual identity.
There were some participants in the Mr. Gay World pageant who were unable to attend due to threats from their community. Several of their families were threatened, and Mr. Gay World Ethiopia faces criminal charges for his sexuality in his homeland, according to AllAfrica.com. The news of these threats conveys the reality of the dangerous level of discrimination against gays that continues in Africa.
That is where America still holds an advantage regarding human rights. Acceptance of homosexuals should continue to increase in our country as time goes on. The recent case with the Miss Universe contest is a great example of this.
If the pageant world can become open-minded and accepting, the rest of the world cannot be too far behind. I have said it before and I will say it again, I cannot wait for the day when our generation, which is generally more accepting than our older counterparts, becomes the dominant one. Discrimination and oppression will become rare — quickly beaten down to a thing of the past.