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Transgender Miss Universe Canada contestant falls short of title

From Paula Newton, CNN
May 21, 2012 -- Updated 1006 GMT (1806 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Jenna Talackova says the pageant was "an amazing experience"
  • Talackova was born a boy named Walter
  • She fought to have Miss Universe organization open competition
  • Sahar Biniaz, 26, is the new Miss Universe Canada

Toronto (CNN) -- Jenna Talackova, the 23-year-old woman who forced Donald Trump and his Miss Universe Canada pageant to end its ban on transgender contestants, fell short of the national title Saturday night at the pageant in Toronto.

The crown went to Sahar Biniaz, an Indian-born, Iranian-raised actress from Vancouver. Biniaz, 26, will represent Canada at the Miss Universe pageant in December, according to the Miss Universe Canada website.

Talackova refused to speak to the media after the competition, but Biniaz said Talackova had congratulated her on her win backstage. Biniaz added that she admired Talackova for having the courage to compete in the pageant.

In a CNN interview hours before showtime, the 6-foot-1 Talackova seemed a bit weary, as the spotlight was still squarely on her gender transformation.

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"Like I always say, my family didn't understand, so why would I expect anybody else to understand? And then they got to know me and they loved me," Talackova said.

But on Sunday, she told CNN the pageant was "an amazing experience."

Asked if she thought her transgender status affected the judges' decision, she said, "Who's to say? I think I worked very hard. All of us ladies worked so hard and we gave it our best shot. The judges see something in those top five, and that's fine. I wouldn't have changed anything."

She didn't walk away from the pageant empty-handed. In addition to finishing among the top 12 semi-finalists, Talackova tied with three other contestants for the title of Miss Congeniality.

"I'm a little tired, but I'm not down," she said Sunday. "For a couple of seconds, I was a little bummed out, but after, like, a couple of minutes I was just extremely happy. I was so proud of myself. I made sure I did my best performance."

How much should gender matter?

Talackova was born a boy with the name Walter, but she said she felt more like a girl by age 4. By 14, Talackova convinced her family that she should start taking steps to physically become a woman, she said. She began hormone therapy as a teenager and had gender reassignment surgery four years ago, when she was 19.

It was then she pursued her dream of competing in a pageant. But her gender history meant she was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada competition for not being a "natural born woman."

Talackova then hired women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, and the pageant's co-owner, Donald Trump, was left with no choice but to change the rules and let Talackova compete.

Donald Trump vs. Gloria Allred: Transgender beauty battle

"I'm not interested in having arguments with Donald Trump. I'm here to focus on Jenna and what she has won," Allred told CNN after Thursday's preliminary competition. "And it's been extremely important, and it really is a civil rights victory. And she has earned the right to claim that victory."

Talackova said Sunday she's never told her story fully on her own terms, "but I let (people) know a lot about myself thus far. I did come out with my statement, and that's that people should embrace their individuality and follow their dreams, like I did."

Talackova said earlier her entry in the competition is about equality, even if some believe pageants are demeaning.

"The power that you get for having the crown -- you can inspire so many people," she said. "So if I have to walk in a bikini for that, I will."

CNN's Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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