Philippines wins fourth Miss Universe crown

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Newly crowned Miss Universe Catriona Gray of the Philippines waves at her supporters after the pageant in Bangkok, Thailand on Monday. Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Catriona Gray from the Philippines was crowned Miss Universe yesterday, the fourth time the Southeast Asian country has won the international beauty pageant.

Ms Gray, a 24-year-old Filipino-Australian model, won the title in the Thai capital Bangkok where the pageant included for the first time a transgender contestant.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude. There were moments of doubt where I felt overwhelmed and I felt the pressure,” said Ms Gray, who wore a red and orange dress that was inspired by Mount Mayon, a Philippine volcano that erupted this year.

Ms Gray was asked during the contest about her views on legalising marijuana and replied that she supported it for medical uses.

After she was crowned, Ms Gray told reporters the question was “definitely relevant” and “an active topic”, in an apparent reference to the war on drugs in the Philippines that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm.

Ms Gray said during the pageant that working in a Manila slum had taught her to find beauty in difficult situations.

“If I could teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face,” she said.

Miss South Africa, Tamaryn Green, 24 was the first runner-up, followed by Miss Venezuela, Sthefany Gutiérrez, 19.

Ms Gray is the fourth Filipina to win Miss Universe and the second in three years.

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said her win would put the country on the world map for its “beauty and elegance.”

“In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work,” he said.

The Philippines previously won Miss Universe titles in 2015, 1973 and 1969.

Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, 27, made history as the first transgender contestant in the 66-year-old pageant.

Like many other contestants at the Miss Universe beauty pageant, Angela Ponce grew up watching the glitzy spectacle on television, dreaming of representing her country one day.

This year, her wish has come true, with Ms Ponce making history as the first transgender contestant in the pageant’s history.

“Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long. I’m showing that trans women can be whatever they want,” said Ms Ponce, who was crowned Miss Spain earlier this year.

“I am proud to have the opportunity to use this platform for a message of inclusion, tolerance and respect for the LGBT+ community,” she said in an interview in Bangkok.

The Miss Universe Organisation, which owns the beauty pageant, lifted a ban on transgender contestants in 2012.

The competition airs in more than 190 countries, with an estimated half a billion viewers annually.

An early favourite to win the crown, Ms Ponce volunteers with a non-profit in Spain that works with children and families dealing with gender identity issues.

Transgender children often struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, she said.

“I was born into a world, into a society which really wasn’t prepared for me. I had the support of my family, but I still faced discrimination, and I had no role models,” she said.

“So many children face discrimination for being different. It is important to tell them they have a right to be who they are, who they want to be,” she said through an interpreter.

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