In a crowning achievement, Kataluna Enriquez made history earlier this summer when she became the first transgender woman to win the Miss Nevada USA pageant, though she says the road hasn’t always been full of glitz and glam.
“As a proud transgender woman of color, a minority within a minority, I know firsthand what it means to be living as a trans woman,” Enriquez said when she was crowned Miss Nevada USA in June.
The 28-year-old was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. when she was 10. She says she grew up feeling scared and was often angry.
“At a young age, when people saw my feminine side, it was always like, ‘You’re sin. You shouldn’t be doing this,'” she recalls. “There was a point in my life where I just wanted to die and I prayed that I just wouldn’t wake up.”
But Enriquez says she eventually found the strength to speak up and transitioned at age 14, when she was in high school. Four years later, she had life-changing surgery.
“Somebody will say [I was] born in the wrong body,” she says when describing what being transgender means to her. “I was not born wrong. I was born different for a purpose.”
That purpose has now blossomed into encouraging others to celebrate diversity, and to fulfilling her passion in fashion design.
Enriquez created her company, Kataluna Kouture, because she was not able to afford dresses for many of her pageants and competitions. Now she is helping other women step into the spotlight by designing their costumes and gowns.
She is also a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community. On the night of her historic win, she posted to Instagram saying, “My win is our win” — something she says she believes to her core.
“Doing that was my way of reminding them that’s it’s OK to be themselves. It’s OK, you may not be out yet, but you are still being seen,” she says.
It’s been a whirlwind since she won the Miss Nevada title, from meeting new people to photo shoots to preparations. But she says it’s her dream come true.
Now, she has her sights set on the Miss USA crown. She’ll be the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Miss USA Pageant later this year.
“Every single step and journey that I do, and every competition, I learn something from that and I’m using that to just make myself better,” she says.
Enriquez’s platform is called #BeVisible, which she explains symbolizes working toward your goals and showing your vulnerability to others. Essentially, be brave enough to be seen, she says.