A 22-year-old Venezuelan on Saturday night was crowned Miss International Queen in Thailand at the world’s biggest beauty pageant for transvestites and transgender women.
Isabella Santiago beat 21 other contestants from 18 countries to win the title and 440,000 baht (US$12,500) in prize money in the resort town of Pattaya. The winner can also opt for a free cosmetic procedure, including gender reassignment surgery.
Miss Thailand Nitsa Katrahong was named first runner-up and received 150,000 baht (US$4,575) and second runner-up Piyada Inthavong from Laos took home 95,000 baht (US$2,900).
The 10th annual contest was held at Tiffany’s nightclub, which is famous for its transvestite cabaret show.
Like other beauty pageants, Miss International Queen has national costume, evening gowns and swimsuits rounds.
Inthavong, 21, won Miss Popular in a landslide online vote thanks to her legion of new fans in Laos, even though media there did not report on the event.
‘This is the first time that a small Communist country, where LGBT rights and freedom of expression are highly limited, has gained international recognition,’ LGBTI activist Anan Bouapha told GSN.
‘More than 30,000 fans in Laos liked her on Facebook within a short time, and it is unbelievable to see so many Lao people are posting about her on Lao social media and talking about third gender issues.’
Bouapha said that despite the flurry of attention on social media, local press had not reported the event because transgender is ‘a taboo issue in our country.’
‘Miss Piyada Inthavong is truly the hope for Lao LGBT to step out of the closet and gradually gain acceptance from the wider society,’ he said.
Watch the crowning of Miss International Queen below: