Miss Italy organisers defend ban on transgender contestants

Rikkie Kolle
Rikkie Kolle was crowned Miss Netherlands 2023, becoming the pageant's first out trans contestant to win. Photo credit: Shutterstock

By Oscar Holland and Jacqui Palumbo of CNN

Organisers of Miss Italy have defended their ban on transgender contestants after the entrepreneur behind the competition appeared to criticise other beauty pageants' efforts to welcome trans women.

"Lately, beauty contests have been trying to make the news by… using strategies that in my opinion are a bit absurd," the pageant's official patron, Patrizia Mirigliani, said in a recent radio interview. "Since it was founded, my contest has stipulated in its regulation (that contestants)… must be a woman from birth."

The comments - which have been widely reported, and have become a source of controversy for the pageant - came shortly after Rikkie Kollé became the first openly trans contestant to win the title of Miss Netherlands.

(Miss Italy is not affiliated with the Miss Universe organisation, and Kollé will compete against the winner of the 2023 Miss Italy Universe pageant, a separate contest.)

Mirigliani, who is the daughter of Miss Italy's former head Enzo Mirigliani, later told radio station RTL 102.5 that her comments had been "misunderstood." But in a statement provided to CNN on Tuesday, the Miss Italy organisation reiterated that "currently, the competition is open to candidates of 'female sex since birth.'"

Organisers did not respond to CNN's query on how the eligibility criteria was enforced. Nor did they explicitly rule out future rule changes, saying in the statement that the contest has "always known how to adapt to the times and has never been rigid on any front" but that "the subject (of trans women participating) at this moment does not constitute a priority."

The organisation added: "Miss Italy has been defined by the public as the competition of the girl next door, the simple girl, who, with the participation in Miss Italy, can assert herself in the world of show business, journalism, politics, and entrepreneurship."

Mirigliani's initial comments sparked outcry earlier this month, and she later elaborated on her position, telling RTL 102.5, "I'm just saying that things have to go gradually; Italy is a delicate and particular country." She also told the radio station that only two transgender people had ever asked to participate in the contest.

In response to the comments, Federico Barbarossa, a member of the Italian nonprofit association Mixed LGBTQIA, said via Instagram that he had successfully entered the pageant because - as a trans man assigned female at birth - he met the pageant's entry requirements.

"When I heard about the absurd regulation, it came spontaneously to me!" read a statement posted to Mixed LGBTQIA's Instagram account alongside what appeared to be a screenshot of an acceptance email from Miss Italy. "I was assigned to the female gender at birth, but I have always felt like a boy. We hope that this gesture will spark the media attention needed to put these issues back at the centre (of the debate)."

He encouraged other trans people assigned female at birth to "register en masse for the competition" to "make fun of these outdated positions."

Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera has reported that other trans male contestants have since applied. A spokesperson for Miss Italy confirmed that the contest had received "some" such applications, and that trans men "will participate" in local castings. "If they are judged suitable by a technical jury they can then parade in public," he added.

Having been crowned Miss Netherlands on July 8, Kollé will go on to compete in Miss Universe - and will make history again if she wins the international pageant. Elsewhere, Daniela Arroyo González is hoping to become the first openly trans woman to win the Miss Universe Puerto Rico pageant, and will also advance to the global Miss Universe pageant if she secures the title.

Miss Italy has, since its inception in 1939, featured several contestants who have gone on to have influential careers in film and television. Among them were Sophia Loren, who participated in 1950 at 15 years old but was not crowned, and Lucia Bosè, who won the contest in 1947. Last year's winner was 18-year-old Lavinia Abate from Rome.