Like most places in Asia and the Pacific Rim, Vietnam is crazy about beauty pageants.
Since being trans is a worldwide thing and there are transpeople in Vietnam, and some of those transpeople like competing in pageants as well, that means there are popular ones reserved for transpeople and gay men who are female illusionists.
Pham Thu Nga reported on the GLBT pageant phenomenon in Vietnam, and one of the increasingly popular ones is the Miss Angel pageant.
This pageant is getting an increased profile and cachet in Vietnam in just four years despite the fact that it hasn't been approved by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Department of Performing Arts.
That organization has to approve all live events in Vietnam.
Lam Thi wanted nothing more than to walk the stage at a glamorous beauty contest, but Vietnamese regulations prohibit transwomen from participating in beauty contests with ciswomen. That unfortunately limits her competition options.
So when she heard about Miss Angel. she did everything she could to compete in the 4th annual edition of this pageant and was determined to win it.
But it was more than self-interest that inspired her, she also wanted to bring greater acceptance to the Vietnamese GLBT community.
“Through such contests, I hope society will learn to keep an open mind about gays,” she said.
GLBT pageants are attracting scores of contestants like Lam Thi who say they just want to be considered normal. Though prize winnings are usually low, around US$100-300, most pageant hopefuls spend an average of $600 getting prepared for the events, according to Minh Quan, director of Miss Angel.
Miss Angel was first held in 2005 by The Gioi Thu Ba (The Third World) Ltd. and gay club Bau Troi Xanh (Blue Sky). Contestants, aged 16-24, compete in three rounds that cover evening gown, question and answer about current events and one in which they must demonstrate their knowledge about HIV/AIDS and safe sex, since the pageant's mission is to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
The Miss Angel judges panel consists of make-up artists, psychologists and members of the Ho Chi Minh City’s AIDS Prevention Committee.
Minh Quan, 29-year-old director of The Gioi Thu Ba Ltd. and moderator of thegioithu3. com, which boasts the largest number of members of all gay-themed websites in Vietnam, said he held Vietnam’s first gay beauty contest at a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City “just for fun.”
Quan, who has come out publicly about his homosexuality, said a group of about 20 gay men competed in the first competition.
But as support grew through his website, which had 8,000 members by 2006, he decided to organize larger, more highly-publicized competitions.
“Later contests drew a lot of media attention with headlines like ‘Homosexuals vie for beauty queen title,’” Quan said.
“We received a lot of support from the public in the beginning. Many thought it was just a normal event. But, of course, there was strong opposition as well.”
This year’s Miss Angel pageant was held in June and attracted hundreds of contestants from Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces.
But it was 20-year-old Thi’s dream that came true at the 4th Miss Angel pageant.
In an interview with Thanh Nien after being crowned the queen of the contest, the native of the southwestern Tay Ninh province said she'd had breast augmentation surgery and would undergo more complicated sex-related surgery in the near future.
Like beauty queens in any other pageant, the 4th Miss Angel said she would use her position to carry out charity work.
“I will launch an awareness campaign calling on homosexuals to have safe sex to prevent AIDS.”
Minh Quan is now also training contestants for the next Miss Angel Contest as well as the Prince Style for lesbians and drag kings. Quan said his biggest wish was that gay pageants would one day be officially licensed so they can expand and attract larger sponsorships.
Quan added that he wanted to organize a contest for transsexuals next year and said that he longed for the day that the gay community would have the full acceptance of the rest of Vietnamese society.
That's a wish GLBT people all over the world fervently hope will come true as well.