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Photos by Katherine Fung

BY KATHERINE FUNG

The first-ever Miss Gorg beauty pageant on March 29 celebrated the accomplishments of transgender women from Queens and beyond.

Ten transgender contestants competed in the pageant at D’Haven in Woodside. The group Outstanding Filipinos in America Awards hosted the evening, which consisted of a swimsuit round, an evening gown round, and a question-and-answer session for the finalists. A packed house cheered the women as they walked the runway.

Alana Jessica Dillon, 21, won the crown. She took home $2,000 in cash and a one-year modeling contract with Trans Models NYC.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Dillon, a first-time pageant contestant who has dreamed about modeling.

The audience erupted in applause during her answer when she called for an end to the harsh realities that transgender people face. Thirty percent live in poverty, she said, and 30 percent have been homeless at some point in their lives.

Her family members and friends cheered her on in the front row. Dillon’s mother Kim said she used to watch her daughter play with Barbie dolls as a kid and wonder what she was thinking. She praised events like the pageant for letting transgender women show the world who they really are.

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“These women are beautiful and they’re courageous,” Dillon said with tears in her eyes. “Every minute of every day, they get a look or a stare, and to be able to celebrate the beauty and the love that they know they have is wonderful.

It was also a major night for a crowd favorite and first runner-up Alexandra Hudson, who used the pageant to come out as a trans woman to the world. “I don’t want to be in the shadows anymore,” she explained before the event.

Hudson grew up in the Philippines where she said she had a difficult time being accepted by her father. She said she joined Thursday’s pageant with the support of friends. “I think this is the right time to come out, to be proud of myself and where I’ve been,” she said.

Pageant founder Elton Lugay said he created Miss Gorg, which is timed to International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, to recognize the accomplishments of people who face discrimination for identifying as the opposite of their assigned gender at birth. “That is their truth,” he said. “We should not have a problem for respecting them for being who they are.”

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The idea for the event came to him during a late-night conversation with friends about marginalized trans women. He grew up in the Philippines, where he used to watch gay pageants. Beauty pageants are so popular in the country that they’re akin to a national sport.

In fact, several of Miss Gorg contestants are seasoned beauty pageant pros, having competed in the United States and in the Philippines. Contestant Marla Vera, for example, was the reigning Miss Gay New Jersey in 2017. Ruffa Fuertes, who drove from New Hampshire to New York to participate in the Miss Gorg pageant and weekend rehearsals, said she competed in the Philippines for 15 years.

Peche Di, one of the pageant judges on Thursday, was a beauty queen in Southeast Asia herself. She is the founder of Trans Models NYC, the first trans modeling agency in the United States. She said she sought out beauty pageants when she moved to New York City alone from Thailand. “Beauty pageants are a small community, a safe space where I feel like I can be myself,” she said.

Melissa Sklarz, a candidate for the 30th Assembly District seat and the first transgender person to hold elected office in New York, and J.R. Cehonski, a program manager at the Queens LGBT Center, also served as pageant judges. Part of the evening’s proceeds will go to support the center’s work.

Cehonski echoed the need for events like Miss Gorg to raise trans visibility. “The more people see transgender people as their neighbors, their family, their friends, their co-workers, the closer we get to the idea of safety, equality and justice,” he said.

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