Miss Transgender UK pageant defends its controversial prize

Jai Latto, a 22-year-old caravan park maintenance worker from the Scottish borders, has been crowned the winner of the first ever Miss Transgender UK pageant but some trans groups have criticised the prize.

Latto won the first prize of £5,000 cash and £10,000 worth of gender-affirmation surgery. The second prize was £1,000 cash and a facial feminisation procedure, and the third £500 cash and a makeover.

“We believe that access to hormones, surgeries and other transition related treatments are basic, necessary, and life-saving. 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: cosmetic and elective,” wrote Jess Bradley from Action for Trans Health. “I can’t help but imagine how devastating and dysphoria-inducing it must be to get your hopes up of winning the ‘prize’ to have them dashed because a bunch of strangers judged you to not be attractive enough.”

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Typically it takes around five years for transgender people to undergo surgery after their first appointment with their GP. Jai Latto spoke of the “heartache” of having to wait so long to have the procedure under the NHS.

After asking her GP in November 2014 about transitioning, she had a five-month wait to receive a letter telling her she had to wait 10 months for a referral appointment to begin taking hormones.

“Basically, it all just went quiet for me,” Latto told HuffPost UK. “I didn’t know where I was, I had no information, I didn’t know where I was going, emails seemed to be getting passed to different people. I was totally clueless and disheartened because I was like ‘Is someone really going to help me? Or am I just sitting here waiting.’

“The idea to just want to start hormones was just heartbreaking because I have really bad five-o-clock shadow and the longer I had to wait, the more I looked at myself and judged myself and just started to criticise myself more and more, and I think the longer the wait, the more I would have lost my confidence,” she continued.

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“Getting this prize, I’m not losing who I am inside,” Latto said after her win. “It’s making me a better person. Then I’ll be my true self, at the end of it. To have it done so quickly is, honestly… I’m so happy.

“I’ll just feel complete, I’ll be me for once,” she added. “I won’t look in the mirror and be ashamed of myself. I’ll be able to look in the mirror and go ‘This is me, it matches who I am inside.'”

The pageant also came under fire for dedicating the prize to transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who died by suicide last year. Alcorn’s moving suicide note was printed in background material for the pageant and the gender surgery prize is called “The Alcorn Prize.”

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But Rachael Bailey, who founded the Miss Transgender UK pageant and funded the event herself, said it was Alcorn’s death that changed the way she felt about the pageant and that the aim of the pageant is to recruit a new generation of trans ambassadors.

“I felt that I needed to sort of reach out to the younger generation and empower them and give them a bit more strength and a bit more pride in who they are, so they didn’t have to feel alone,” she explained. “So I rebranded and changed my company into a sociable enterprise.”