A Thai transgender businesswoman and media tycoon has bought the company that runs the Miss Universe beauty pageants for $20 million.
Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip, the boss of JKN Global Group, a company that makes television shows in Thailand, has become the first woman to own the pageant in its 71-year history, according to an Oct. 26 press release from the company.
Jakrajutatip, a reality TV star in her home country, has appeared on Thai versions of Project Runway and Shark Tank. She also helped establish Life Inspired for Transsexual Foundation, a nonprofit transgender rights group, according to The Today Show.
Jakrajutatip said in a statement that the Miss Universe Organization was a “strong, strategic addition” to her company’s portfolio.
“We seek not only to continue its legacy of providing a platform to passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, but also to evolve the brand for the next generation,” she said.
During the announcement of its acquisition of the Miss Universe Organization, JKN also announced plans for generating additional value based on consumers’ familiarity with the Miss Universe brand. The company plans to debut MU Lifestyle, a new licensing and merchandising arm that will leverage the strength of the Miss Universe brand to create a new range of merchandise, as well as entertainment and business opportunities, that reflect the strength of the brand.
“Our relationships with global partners and brands have never been stronger, and our progressive approach continues to position us at the forefront of our industry,” Miss Universe Organization Chief Executive Amy Emmerich and President Paula Shugart said in a statement.
Jakrajutatip’s purchase of the company, which was co-owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump from 1996 to 2015, coincides with efforts to make the pageant — which airs in more than 160 countries — more inclusive.
For example, beginning next year, for the first time since its inception, married women and mothers will be able to compete for the title, reports BBC News. The pageant already featured its first transgender contestant in 2018, when Miss Spain Angela Ponce competed for the crown.
Trump sold the Miss Universe Organization to U.S. talent agency WME-IMG after two television partners said they would not broadcast the pageant due to comments Trump made about illegal immigrants when launching his presidential campaign. He also received criticism after former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, a Venezuelan-born model, claimed that Trump called her “Miss Piggy” for putting on weight after winning the title in 1996.
A profile of Jakrajutatip in the Bangkok Post earlier this year recounted how she attended an all-male school, where she was harassed due to her gender identity. She later entered the business world and became the third-richest transgender person in the world, with an estimated worth of $210 million in U.S. dollars, according to Forbes. She ranks behind Jennifer Pritzker, one of the heirs to the Hyatt Hotel chain fortune, whose net worth is listed at $1.9 billion, and Martine Rothblatt, the chief executive of biotechnology firm United Therapeutics, whose net worth is estimated at $390 million, according to The Associated Press.
Despite Jakrajutatip’s personal success, her home country is lacking when it comes to protections for LGBTQ rights, according to a 2021 report from the global civil rights organization Human Rights Watch. While the country is a destination for some trans people seeking out gender-affirming health care, there are no procedures in place for people to change their legal gender or obtain official documentation, and the country lacks official policies prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in health care, education, and employment.
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