Miss USA Jazell Barbie Royale (middle) after being crowned 2019 Miss International Queen, becoming the competition’s first winner of African descent.
The world’s most famous transgender pageant, Miss International Queen, has been drawing contestants from around the globe to Thailand for the last 15 years. This time, the pageant made history by honoring its first winner of African descent. Miss USA Jazell Barbie Royale, a passionate full-time HIV awareness advocate from Orlando, took home the crown and gained a valuable platform for furthering her mission.
First runner-up and second runner-up (pictured) were Miss Thailand, Kanwara “Esmon” Kaewjin and Miss China, Yaya, respectively. This year’s theme was World Equality, and the pageant saw 20 semifinalists representing countries such as Canada, Peru, Brazil, and Vietnam.
Left to right: First Runner Up Miss Thailand Kanwara Kaewjin. Winner Miss USA Jazell Barbie Royale, and Second Runner up Miss China Yaya.
Royale, 31, became emotional when she heard her name. Just 24 hours earlier, as The Advocate chatted with her over a Thai lunch in the seaside town of Pattaya, she expressed doubts in her ability to win despite being seen as one of the front-runners.
“It’s difficult being in a pageant and looking at the past winners and you don’t see anyone like you,” she says of her tall, curvy hourglass frame and darker skin. The 15-year-old competition draws a large number of Asian entrants and judges due to its location. “That tugs at me and makes me doubt myself, thinking I could possibly be wasting my time. I think, Are my breasts too big? Are my hips too wide? Do they like me? Are they gonna see me as equal to everyone else?”
She adds, “But that’s our culture; most Black women are curvy. I just hope the judges are diverse enough in different cultures to know that everyone is different. It goes back to what this pageant pushes—trans equality. You can’t say trans equality if everyone is not equal, regardless of size. They should really make sure they’re educated about that. Cultural competency is very important.”
Thankfully, they were. In fact, Dr. Seri Wongmontha, a founding judge and a well-known gay rights activist and educator in Thailand, revealed to The Advocate that Royale’s top scoring was unanimous. “From the first time we saw her and heard her speak, we had the feeling that she was going to win,” says Wongmontha.
Royale was far from the only professional woman in the pageant this year. The competitors included an engineer, a law student, two nonprofit workers, and two popular YouTubers. Contestants view the pagent as an opportunity to bond with other trans women from around the world, become positive role models for trans youth, and provide positive visibility to the global trans community.
Veena Sendre, Miss India, founded her own antibullying organization after being named Miss Trans Queen India 2018. She grew up as part of the untouchable caste in a tribal village and was forced to quit school at a young age due to bullying over being transgender in a country where trans people are still viewed most often as beggars or sex workers. These days, she travels to Indian schools and universities sharing her story and antibullying message.
Yaya, who took the Miss Congeniality title as well as the second runner-up sash, said she entered the competition to provide hope to trans youth in China, where trans people are often shunned and many trans youth wind up committing suicide because they see no possibility for a positive future. The professional singer and voice teacher said, “I’m here to show that I’m transgender and I’m beautiful. I’m not a monster, I’m not sick, I’m not crazy, I’m a lady. In China, they think trans people are crazy and want to put them in hospitals. But I’m here to show them that we’re not.”