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Judge Rules Beauty Pageant Can Limit Participants to “Natural Born Females”

Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) Miss Nebraska Sarah Rose Summers celebrates after winning the 2018 Miss USA Competition at George's Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 21, 2018 in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on March 03, 2021 3:54 PM

Beauty pageants have long been a source of controversy. Do they empower or objectify women? Is there enough diversity or do they promote only a certain type of “beauty?" In part as a response to these legitimate concerns, beauty pageants have made a concerted effort at diversity and inclusion in recent years. In 2012, the Miss Universe pageant ended its ban on transgender women participating in the contest, for example. The Miss America pageant ended the swimsuit portion of the competition in 2018.

In contrast to how other beauty pageants are evolving, the Miss United States of America pageant is sticking to its policy of only allowing “natural born females" to compete. A federal judge in Oregon recently dismissed a legal challenge to this policy, holding that the Miss USA pageant has a First Amendment right to ban transgender women.

Miss United States of America Pageant Is for “Natural Born Females" Only

Anita Noelle Green believes beauty pageants are a source of empowerment. “I want to participate in pageants for the same reason every woman wants to — to gain a sense of confidence and poise, and to feel beautiful and glamorous," she wrote in her complaint. However, Green was banned from the Miss United States of America pageant because she was not a “natural born female." The Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss Universe pageants are all separate competitions, although the Miss USA winner does go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. The Miss Universe competition has already had several transgender participants since it ended its ban in 2012.

Green sued in December 2019, after the USOA denied her entry on the same day she submitted her application. The USOA pageant filed a motion to dismiss, which U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman granted from the bench on February 25, 2021. Judge Mosman found that the Miss United States of America organization is an “expressive" organization, not a commercial one, and as such has a First Amendment right to its message.

After the ruling, The Oregonian quoted attorney John T. Kaempf as saying that “contrary to what people might think, my client, the pageant, is a supporter of diversity. It believes there can be a Miss Black USA pageant, a Miss Native American pageant or a transgender pageant."

In its motion to dismiss, Kaempf and the pageant refused to call Green a woman, instead writing that she is “a man who identifies as a woman." Allowing Green to participate would conflict with its belief that being a woman requires being born a biological woman, the organization argued. Other requirements include being single, never married, and never having given birth.

While the Miss USA pageant will be allowed to continue its ban on transgender participants, Green has indicated she will continue participating in other pageants and promoting her message that “every person has beauty."

Related Resources

Supreme Court: Title VII Protections Include Sexual Orientation and Transgender Status (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court)

The Fun and Easy Way to Use Gender Pronouns in Legal Writing (FindLaw's Strategist)

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