Meet Angela Ponce, the first transgender contestant to compete at this year's Miss Universe. She's doing more than just representing Spain. She says she's also representing the world's transgender community.
"What I feel by being the first transgender contestant at Miss Universe is a big sense of responsibility, it gives me a lot of pride, and personally I'm very proud to have made it here," Ponce said.
The Miss Universe organization changed its rules to allow transgender contestants in 2012, but that hasn't stopped some critics — even some fellow contestants — from speaking out against Ponce's participation. Valeria Morales, representing Colombia, said this during a recent interview: "I think beauty pageants like Miss Universe are for women who are born women."
On Instagram, Ponce responded that she respects Morales' opinion and she wants to get to know her.
In another interview, the 26-year-old Ponce spoke about what it means to be a woman.
"I always say that it's not that you feel like a woman. You already ARE a woman. A transgender is not a man or a boy who feels like a woman, she's already a transgender person. There are no wrong-bodies."
Ponce said she wants to use her platform to spotlight the ignorance and discrimination surrounding transgender people.
"We don't have the same rights, but we have the same obligations. At school, disinformation is what becomes prejudice, the bullying, the fact that you feel alone, excluded," Ponce said.
Discrimination against transgender people is a global issue that has caused violence, poverty and high rates of suicide in the community worldwide. In the U.S. alone, there is a lack of legal protections when it comes to education, housing and employment. Only 21 states and D.C. have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ponce's historic entry in this year's Miss Universe competition will take place in Thailand, which is about to become the first Asian country to allow same-sex civil partnerships.