Shaine Soni, an Indian transgender and fashion designer by profession, has been crowned as Miss Transqueen India, the country's beauty pageant for transgender women, on Saturday.
She will represent India at next year's Miss International Queen, the world's biggest pageant for transgender women, reports CNN.
Miss Transqueen India, established in 2017, involves all the trappings of a traditional beauty pageant -- photoshoots, talent rounds, elaborate costumes, judges and hundreds of audience members.
This year, organizers were unable to hold the competition due to the pandemic, which prompted a national lockdown from late March to May.
But Reena Rai, chairwoman and founder of Miss Transqueen India, wasn't ready to give up; she was determined to send a contestant to represent India in the 2021 international pageant.
In a telephone interview, she said "My pageant isn't just about beauty, it is about empowerment and inclusion. If I am going to send someone without holding a competition, then I have to make sure that they are a very strong candidate, the best of the best, someone who knows the value of (becoming Miss) Transqueen India."
Soni seemed like the obvious choice; as a fashion designer and stylist whose work is known on the pageant circuit, she has previously helped coach contestants and pick their outfits.
For years, she stayed relatively quiet about her own transgender identity while struggling for acceptance from her family and friends -- but Rai encouraged her to step forward for the title.
"She has always been a very strong backbone for Transqueen India," said Rai.