In Depth

Miss Transgender UK: is the beauty pageant exploitative or empowering?

Critics argue the contest encourages trans woman to conform to patriarchal ideals of femininity

The winner of Britain's transgender beauty pageant has been crowned, but the annual event continues to divide the trans community.

Jai Dara Latto, a 22-year-old make-up artist and trans activist from Scotland, has been named Miss Transgender United 2015 and described her win as a "life changing experience".

The pageant held heats across the country, with contestants taking part in rounds including a question-and-answer session, a talent showcase and a formal-wear catwalk.

Organisers said their objectives were to recruit role models for the trans community, raise money for LGBT charities and provide a much-needed platform for trans issues.

"What I really love about tonight is not just about raising the awareness, but it's actually celebrating our community," contestant Natasha Scott told The Independent.

Although attitudes towards transgender people are slowly changing, the trans community still faces widespread discrimination, high unemployment, disproportionate levels of violence and higher than average suicide rates.

"Many would argue that anything that gives [trans] stories greater prominence has to be useful," says The Guardian's Jane Fae.

But the event has raised serious concerns in the trans community. Fae argues that the pageant is inherently sexist and encourages women to compete by conforming to patriarchal ideals of femininity and attractiveness.

Critics also argued that the prize – £5,000 in cash and a voucher for full gender reassignment surgery – was unethical as healthcare should be a fundamental right, not a prize.

People wishing to go through with gender reassignment surgery are often forced to wait years before receiving treatment on the NHS and a support group for transgender people recently warned that delays were leading patients to self-harm and suicide.

"We believe that access to hormones, surgeries and other transition-related treatments are basic, necessary and life-saving," writes Jess Bradley from group Action For Trans Health.

"They are not prizes akin to a cruise or an open-top car. Making them prizes just makes our basic healthcare needs seem like luxuries."

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