A Thai media mogul and transgender rights advocate has bought the Miss Universe Organization for $20 million, which his company says will now host the international beauty pageant.
Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip is the CEO of JKN Global Group PCL, a Thai media distribution company, although she is perhaps better known for her role in the Thai versions of reality shows like “Project Runway.”
She has also spoken about her experiences as a transgender woman, and has worked in the defense of transgender rights in Thailand.
JKN Global Group announced the acquisition on Wednesday, saying in a news release that it wanted to grow the Miss Universe Organization by expanding into Asia, and launched new merchandise including skin care, cosmetics, lifestyle products, dietary supplements and beverages.
Jakkaphong said the company was “tremendously honoured” to make the acquisition.
“We not only continue the legacy of providing a platform to passionate people from different backgrounds, cultures and traditions, we also look to develop the brand for the next generation,” he said.
In a joint statement, the CEO and President of the Miss Universe Organization said they are “excited to continue the evolution of the Miss Universe Organization with JKN.”
“Our progressive approach continues to place us at the forefront of our industry,” they said.
The purchase makes Jakkaphong the first female owner of the Miss Universe Organization, according to JKN news.
The Miss Universe beauty pageant, one of the most watched pageants in the world, has been running since 1952.
Like many other major pageants, it has had to take into account the growing public demand for greater diversity, representation and inclusivity over the past decade. It only lifted its ban on transgender contestants in 2012, after a Canadian contestant threatened legal action after being told she would be disqualified because of her sex assigned at birth.
And while some critics argue that the premise of a beauty pageant is inherently flawed, others argue that there has been significant progress in recent years.
Beauty pageants for transgender contestants have taken center stage, especially Miss International Queen, launched in 2004 and this year in Thailand. Some countries have launched their own versions; In 2017, India held its first Miss Transqueen India pageant, which aims to celebrate gender fluidity and increase the visibility of the transgender community in India.
And in 2019, the winners of all five major pageants (Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA) were women of color, a significant milestone, as black women were not allowed to compete in Miss America. In the 1940s, the first black contestant didn’t take that stage until 30 years later.