Wearing a rainbow sequin gown she designed herself in honor of Pride Month, Kataluna Enriquez made history last weekend when she was crowned Miss Nevada USA — the win will make her the first openly transgender contestant to compete in the upcoming Miss USA pageant this fall.
"My win is our win," she posted afterward on her Instagram in a message to the LGBTQ community. "We just made history. Happy pride."
Enriquez, who was also Miss Nevada USA's first trans contestant, beat out 21 other women for the top spot. She will represent the Silver State at the 2021 Miss USA pageant that will be held on Nov. 29 in Tulsa, Okla., where she will have a chance to be crowned Miss USA and advance to the Miss Universe pageant.
If crowned Miss USA, Enriquez will become the second trans contestant to compete for Miss Universe, after Angela Ponce, who represented Spain in the 2018 Miss Universe pageant. The pageant began allowing transgender contestants in 2012.
Enriquez began competing in pageants in 2015. Unable to afford custom designer gowns that fit her body at the time, she began designing her own to wear for competitions and eventually started her own line, Kataluna Kouture (@katalunakouture). In March, Enriquez became the first trans woman to win Miss Nevada's preliminary pageant, Miss Silver State USA.
The journey has not been easy, and Enriquez has faced discrimination. While competing in a pageant outside of Nevada, she had not been given a roommate when pageant organizers learned she was trans. A doctor had also been sent to certify that she was a woman before she could continue.
But Enriquez told NPR's Weekend All Things Considered that her determination to make history was what motivated her to keep competing.
"I had a purpose and I had a dream," she said. "I wanted to compete on the Miss USA stage. When I was young, I always wanted to see someone on the Miss USA stage — someone like me. And it just happened to be that I was the person that I needed to make history."
As she prepares for the Miss USA pageant, Enriquez said she plans to advocate for equality and mental health.
"My win is not just a win for the trans community," she said. "It's a win for all women to be represented."
Kalyani Saxena and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio version of this story. Josie Fischels produced for the web. Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
For decades, the pageant world has leaned heavily into conventional notions of ideal beauty and womanhood. Critics have long been calling out these competitions for their lack of diversity and for promoting unhealthy beauty standards. But in recent years, some pageants have made notable changes to their rules.
In 2012, the Miss Universe pageant system, which includes Miss USA, ended its ban on transgender contestants. And last weekend, in a rainbow gown she made herself, Kataluna Enriquez was crowned Miss Nevada USA, making her the first transgender woman who will compete in the Miss USA pageant this fall. Here to talk more about this historic first is Kataluna Enriquez. Welcome and, first of all, congratulations.
KATALUNA ENRIQUEZ: Thank you so much. And it's an honor to be talking to you all.
MCCAMMON: I wonder if you could take us back to that big moment when your name was called and you were crowned Miss Nevada. How did that feel?
ENRIQUEZ: I have no words. I mean, we made history. I don't know how to explain that. Winning was always been my dream. I fought for it for five years. And to be able to have that achieved is amazing, but actually making history is something that I can't explain.
MCCAMMON: How did you get interested in pageants? I mean, what drew you to them?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, first, when I started watching pageantry, I've always thought that it was just about superficial beauty and just having the tallest contestant, the longest hair, the nicest teeth, the slimmest body. But I've learned from one contestant, who was from Miss Universe Philippines, she was growing up in a rice field or she was training in rice fields. And there's times where she would have barely anything to eat. And that story resonated with me and my community and my people. And I've learned to look at beyond such a pretty face and listen to their heart and their stories and what they've going through in life and really celebrate that. And I thought that I wanted to be a part of that. And I have a story that I wanted to tell and share the world as well.
MCCAMMON: But your journey hasn't been easy. In an interview with FOX 5 Las Vegas, you said that when you competed in another state, pageant organizers there did not give you a roommate and had a doctor certify that you were a woman after they found out you were trans.
MCCAMMON: In that same interview, you mentioned that you felt alone and misunderstood. After all of that, what made you want to keep participating?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, I had a purpose and I had a dream. I wanted to compete in the Miss USA stage. When I was young, I've always wanted to see someone on the Miss USA stage, someone like me. And it just happened to be that I was the person that I needed and - to make that history. But again, like, I had that purpose, and I had that dream. I wanted to achieve it and, for me, the purpose of representing people and representing not just myself but something that is not always represented in our communities and in this time, especially in media.
MCCAMMON: How might you respond to somebody who would say, look, you know, I get it. Inclusion is important, but why fight for inclusion in an institution that's been, in the eyes of many women, problematic for a long time? Why not focus on showcasing your talents in other ways that aren't focused on your appearance?
ENRIQUEZ: Well, I think people are still stuck to the idea that beauty pageant is just appearances, but it's not. I think people are still having a hard time accepting that you can be absolutely stunning and still be purposeful.
MCCAMMON: I don't think the issue is so much a question that women can't be beautiful and successful. It's more the idea of what beautiful is. I mean, I've seen your photos. You are, you know, conventionally beautiful. You are thin. You have long, glossy hair. You have a pretty face, you know? A lot of women feel pressure to look that way and have a hard time looking that way. Don't pageants perpetuate what, for maybe most women, is an unachievable standard?
ENRIQUEZ: I don't believe so. I mean, we use our platform to really share ourselves in reality, too, as well. If you look into my media, I'm not always wearing makeup. I am not always having a good day. I always share the very vulnerable moments in my life, including when I'm being attacked, how would that makes me feel as a survivor and as a trans woman. I always share the reality of my truth. And so I would disagree with that.
MCCAMMON: And of course, you will be representing Nevada in the Miss USA pageant in November. So before we let you go, what are you doing to get ready for that?
ENRIQUEZ: Great question. So there's a lot of things I have to work on. Communication skills is one of them. That's one of the things I had a hard time - especially because at a young age, I taught myself to silence myself in order to survive. But that's - one of the things I'm working on is, obviously, preparations in terms of gowns, your interviews, how are you going to advocate for your community and how you going to brand yourself.
For me, it's really mental health. And for me, the most important is representing my state, as it is the No. 1 state for LGBTQ+ community, and I was be honored to that and show the world what that is like when we are given opportunities to rise beyond hardship and limitations.
MCCAMMON: That's Kataluna Enriquez. She was crowned Miss Nevada USA last Sunday, and she's set to compete in the Miss USA pageant this fall. Kataluna Enriquez, thanks so much for joining us, and good luck.
ENRIQUEZ: Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO'S "GOOD AS HELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.