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Transgender Miss USA contestant eliminated early

NBC News logo NBC News 11/30/2021 Dennis Romero
a group of people posing for the camera: 2nd Annual TransNation Festival Closing Gala © Unique Nicole 2nd Annual TransNation Festival Closing Gala

Kataluna Enriquez, the first openly transgender Miss USA contestant, was eliminated before the round of 16 at the pageant Monday, prompting social media responses lamenting her finish.

The pageant ultimately awarded its crown to Elle Smith, a reporter at Louisville, Kentucky, television station WHAS. "This is quite the accomplishment!!" the station tweeted. "Our Elle Smith is your new MISS USA!"

Earlier in the day, Enriquez, 27, was celebrated as a champion in her home state, Nevada.

"Kataluna represents the best of her community and our state and when she takes the stage, she'll make history!" Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted Monday night.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., agreed, tweeting, "Kataluna is making history as the first openly transgender woman to compete in Miss USA, and I couldn't think of anyone better to represent the Silver State."

In June, Enriquez outperformed 21 other contestants at the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas to take the Miss Nevada crown in her adopted hometown.

That took her to Monday's event at River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Smith, the night's winner, will head to the Miss Universe pageant next month in Eilat, Israel.

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The Miss Universe pageant system, including Miss USA, began allowing transgender entrants in 2012. In 2018, Spain’s Angela Ponce became the first transgender contestant at the global pageant.

Donald Trump sold the U.S. contest to a Hollywood talent agency in 2015 amid backlash to xenophobic remarks about Mexican immigrants he made during the launch of his campaign for the White House.

Today Miss USA's slogan is "Pageantry Reimagined."

Enriquez, who is Filipina American, said she designs her own pageant clothing.

In March, after she won a preliminary pageant in Nevada, she spoke about being trans.

“Today I am a proud transgender woman of color. Personally, I’ve learned that my differences do not make me less than, it makes me more than,” she said, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “I know that my uniqueness will take me to all my destinations, and whatever I need to go through in life.”

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