Just days before the 2023 Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador, the company behind the event, led by Thai trans activist Anne Jakrajutatip, has filed for bankruptcy. This development comes as a surprise, especially considering the pageant’s recent acquisition for $20 million and the introduction of progressive changes, including the acceptance of trans contestants.
Anne Jakrajutatip, a Thai trans woman and CEO of JKN Global Group, took ownership of the Miss Universe Organisation in 2022 from IMG Media. This move was part of a broader plan to modernise and revitalise the pageant, which previously belonged to Donald Trump’s business empire between 1996 and 2015. Under Jakrajutatip’s leadership, the organisation has embraced inclusivity, allowing mothers, married women, and trans women to compete. Notably, Angela Ponce of Spain, the first trans participant, competed for the crown in 2018.
Despite these groundbreaking changes, JKN Global Group, which also owns Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, has struggled financially. The company recently missed a $12 million loan repayment, leading to the bankruptcy filing. But Jakrajutatip remains optimistic, stating on Instagram that the Miss Universe Organisation is “completely clean” and that the event will proceed as planned.
This year’s pageant, starting with preliminary rounds on 15th November, will feature two trans women contestants: Marina Machete from Portugal and Rikkie Valerie Kolle from the Netherlands. Their participation marks a significant step forward in the pageant’s history, aligning with Miss Universe’s public stance that “trans women are women, full stop.”
The reigning Miss Universe, America’s R’Bonney Gabriel, is set to crown this year’s winner. Gabriel, known for her commitment to sustainable fashion and community investment, epitomises the progressive and empowering ethos the organisation now champions. Her work in fashion design, particularly using recycled materials, and her efforts to teach sewing to survivors of human trafficking demonstrate a profound commitment to positive change.
JKN Global Group’s share price has plummeted by over 80% since early 2022, underscoring the financial difficulties facing the company. Despite this, the organisation is making efforts to refinance its debt and remain operational. The bankruptcy news is reminiscent of the challenges faced by Donald Trump in 2015, when he sold the pageant amidst controversy and declining relationships with TV companies.