When American competitor Jazell Barbie Royale took the 2019 crown at the Miss International Queen pageant -- the largest and most prestigious transgender beauty competition in the world according to CNN -- in Pattaya, Thailand, earlier this year, she made history, as the first woman of African descent to hold the title.
But while making strides for racial equality is an enormous honor, Royale's true goal is raising global HIV awareness. The full-time community liaison plans to use her new platform to draw further attention to the importance of HIV prevention, testing and treatment; and awareness of the advances made in the past decade in medical care for the virus.
And she's more than just a spokesperson. The passionate advocate walks the walk. When she landed in Thailand, her first stops were at a pharmacy and an STD clinic in Pattaya--home to a notorious red-light district--to check if they were carrying PEP and PrEP, the pre- and post-exposure protocols for HIV. Happily, she was able to confirm that they were.
Royale, 31, is not only a full-time HIV awareness champion (she works at Bliss Healthcare Services back home in Orlando, Fla.) but also a cabaret performer, opera singer, and former Miss Continental and Miss Black Universe, both stateside-based pageants.
She entered the International Queen pageant with hopes of furthering her message, but also to continue serving as a role model and inspiration for trans women everywhere. Royale long dreamed of competing but one of the challenges is that entrants must cover their own expenses, from travel to accommodations to costumes to hair and makeup, to coaches and personal assistants.
When the pageant is as far from Orlando as Thailand, the travel is not cheap--even if you fly solo, as Royale did. She worked two full-time jobs, seven days a week for 12 months to afford to enter and attend this year's pageant.
"I came here by myself but I won't leave by myself," she told
backstage the day before the pageant. Since winning, she's attracted 15,000 new online fans. "Now my platform will be even larger and I'll be able to educate people from around the world about HIV, PEP, PrEP, and how they can apply the facts to their lives."
Her HIV advocacy began in the most organic way possible--from being part of the community that needed the information most. "I've had many friends pass away from complications from HIV and many that I've assisted and helped get into treatment. It's something I was already doing. Then I started going to a training program, one thing led to another, and they offered me a job running a Transformation class [a seven-week course that teaches transmen, women and nonbinary people about issues in their community] and then I got certified to advocate."
In Florida, where Royale lives and works, she says, "HIV is really rampant, especially among trans people. I most wanted to spread the word about PrEP and PEP. I'm more fascinated with PEP than PrEP because we all make mistakes. We've all had those one-night stands and drunk nights where we slept with somebody we don't know well. A lot of people have been infected with HIV because they made one bad choice or were raped. Many of them don't know that if it happens to you, you can take this medicine for 30 days and it can prevent the virus from getting to your cells."
The beauty queen encourages those at risk, especially trans women, to get tested, adding, "If you're HIV-negative and [at risk], you need to be taking PrEP to keep yourself that way. If you're positive, get into treatment--if your viral load is undetectable, you can't pass the virus. If you're undetectable, you can live a long life. You don't have to go through complications if you take this one pill."
Royale's former role as Miss Continental allowed her to travel outside the country for the first time, meeting people in the Bahamas, France, and Switzerland. The MIQ crown will allow her to go even further, to connect with people all over the world.
"I can just imagine where being Miss International Queen is going to take me, especially with the platform and message that I have to spread." She's eager to share what she knows about HIV with the world.