During a darker period of her life, Kataluna Enriquez, 28, recalled receiving so much hate for being transgender that she prayed she would not wake up.
“I silenced myself and belittled myself just so I could survive,” she told The Washington Post.
But now, Enriquez is center-stage and making history. Crowned Miss Nevada USA on Sunday, Enriquez will become the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant.
“I have always said I hope to see one day that someone like me is represented in Miss USA,” she said. “I never thought that it would be me.”
Enriquez beat 21 other contestants at the South Point Casino Hotel Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday — a trailblazing moment at a time when participation by transgender women in beauty pageants is not universally accepted.
In January 2019, Anita Noelle Green, who won the 2019 Miss Elite Earth Oregon pageant, sued Miss United States of America, an organization separate from Miss USA. The organization had barred her from participating in its pageant, citing a policy to allow only “natural born” women to compete. In February, a federal judge ruled that the organization had the right to exclude transgender contestants.
Even though she lost her lawsuit, Green saw a victory in Enriquez’s success. “This is a historic moment for the trans community,” she wrote in a Monday Facebook post following Enriquez’s win. “Congratulations Kataluna! This is such an honor! I’m so, so happy for you!!!”
Enriquez will now represent Nevada in the 2021 Miss USA pageant. The pageant is part of the Miss Universe system, which began allowing transgender women to compete in 2012, NBC reported. If Enriquez wins the competition, she would become the second transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe. Spain’s Angela Ponce was the first.
Enriquez told The Post that she competed in her first transgender competition 2015, roughly four years after she medically transitioned.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t have a team. I didn’t know what to wear. I didn’t have the money.” And she didn’t win, either, she said.
She has come a long way since then. In March, Enriquez became the first transgender woman to win the Miss Silver State USA, a preliminary for Miss Nevada USA, KVVU reported.
Before competing in pageants, Enriquez believed the competitions were superficial. But she soon realized they were more than “what you see with your own eyes,” she told The Post. Pageants are about “what you do and how you feel, and what you advocate for, and redefining what it means to be a woman … and what it means to be confident within your own type of beauty,” she said.
Enriquez said she is looking forward to competing in Miss USA on Nov. 29.
“I will do my best to represent our state and represent my community, and embrace myself and hopefully be a great example to many people of all backgrounds,” she added.