Wearing a rainbow sequin gown she designed herself in honor of Pride Month, Kataluna Enriquez made history last weekend when she was crowned Miss Nevada USA — the win will make her the first openly transgender contestant to compete in the upcoming Miss USA pageant this fall.
"My win is our win," she posted afterward on her Instagram in a message to the LGBTQ community. "We just made history. Happy pride."
Enriquez, who was also Miss Nevada USA's first trans contestant, beat out 21 other women for the top spot. She will represent the Silver State at the 2021 Miss USA pageant that will be held on Nov. 29 in Tulsa, Okla., where she will have a chance to be crowned Miss USA and advance to the Miss Universe pageant.
If crowned Miss USA, Enriquez will become the second trans contestant to compete for Miss Universe, after Angela Ponce, who represented Spain in the 2018 Miss Universe pageant. The pageant began allowing transgender contestants in 2012.
Enriquez began competing in pageants in 2015. Unable to afford custom designer gowns that fit her body at the time, she began designing her own to wear for competitions and eventually started her own line, Kataluna Kouture (@katalunakouture). In March, Enriquez became the first trans woman to win Miss Nevada's preliminary pageant, Miss Silver State USA.
The journey has not been easy, and Enriquez has faced discrimination. While competing in a pageant outside of Nevada, she had not been given a roommate when pageant organizers learned she was trans. A doctor had also been sent to certify that she was a woman before she could continue.
But Enriquez told NPR's Weekend All Things Considered that her determination to make history was what motivated her to keep competing.
"I had a purpose and I had a dream," she said. "I wanted to compete on the Miss USA stage. When I was young, I always wanted to see someone on the Miss USA stage — someone like me. And it just happened to be that I was the person that I needed to make history."
As she prepares for the Miss USA pageant, Enriquez said she plans to advocate for equality and mental health.
"My win is not just a win for the trans community," she said. "It's a win for all women to be represented."
Kalyani Saxena and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio version of this story. Josie Fischels produced for the web. Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.