Trans woman crowned Miss San Francisco

  • by Marijke Rowland
  • Wednesday March 29, 2023
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Monroe Lace was overcome with emotion when she was crowned Miss San Francisco March 5. Photo: Courtesy Monroe Lace
Monroe Lace was overcome with emotion when she was crowned Miss San Francisco March 5. Photo: Courtesy Monroe Lace

The Miss California Organization, part of the long-running Miss America pageant, has crowned the first transgender local winner in the state group's 99-year history. San Francisco resident Monroe Lace will now compete to become the first trans statewide titleholder in the contest's history.

Lace, 25, was named Miss San Francisco earlier this month. She now goes on to the statewide competition to be held for the first time in Visalia in late June to pick the next Miss California, who will represent the state in the annual Miss America pageant.

The Bay Area native and UCLA graduate's win comes just four years after she left her home and unaccepting family. Afterward she said that she became homeless and was then violently raped.

"I would rather be homeless and loved than be in a home that didn't love me. So I packed my belongings in a single suitcase and left in the middle of night," she said. "I think after my sexual assault I knew that service was important and something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt becoming Miss San Francisco was an opportunity for me to give back to the city that has welcomed me with open arms."

Lace, who identifies as straight, said she had dreamed of entering the Miss America pageant since she was 12 years old, but because she never saw anyone like her represented in the competition she didn't think she could.

The Miss America organization bylaws have never outright banned trans women from competing, and only require contestants to identify as female on their birth certificates. Transgender and nonbinary California residents can change their gender identity on their birth certificates and other identifying documents. Lace petitioned the court several years ago, records show.

The Miss San Francisco competition was Lace's first-ever pageant, and she said she had to overcome her fears about entering as a trans woman.

"I told myself if it wasn't going to be me, then who? And if not now, then when?" she said. "So I just went in being my whole authentic self and I won."

She is only the second transgender local winner in the national Miss America organization's more than 100-year history. Last November, Brían Nguyen, a 19-year-old student and social media influencer, became its first local winner after being crowned Miss Greater Derry 2023 as part of the statewide Miss New Hampshire competition.

Lace was crowned March 5 and is among winners from 21 Miss California local competitions now vying for the state title. Most of the local contests are regionally based and run by nonprofit groups that raise scholarship funds for the contestants.

Tamicia Wakefield, the executive director of the Bay Area Scholarship Alliances, which organizes and fundraises for the regional Miss California pageants, said many people aren't aware that Miss America has never outright barred transgender women from competing or confuse the organization with other pageants that do.

She said people also often think of Miss America as only a beauty pageant, but the competition has shifted over the years and puts greater emphasis on each contestant's social platform.

"I really hope through [Lace's] social platform more young people in general feel empowered to advocate for themselves — especially given a lot of the legislation happening (in other states) across the country right now," said Wakefield, who has competed in the Miss Santa Clara competition in the past and identifies as queer. "There's so many attacks on the queer community, the drag community. It doesn't matter if you're from a state that has these laws or not, they're all fearful."

Lace's community service platform for her year as Miss San Francisco comes from her own experiences with sexual assault.

When she left her family, which she hasn't had contact with for four years now, she ended up sleeping in a residential hotel where she was raped at gunpoint. This fall, she will testify against her attacker in San Francisco Superior Court, she said.

"My platform is all about supporting survivors and rape victims through education, legislation, and awareness," she said. "I hope to use my year of service to share my personal story, teach children about good character and about being their most authentic selves and advocate for legislation that keeps the city and state safe."

She recently completed beauty school and earned her cosmetology license. While she works as a hairstylist, she plans to go to law school and become a deputy district attorney.

Her ultimate goal is to then become a judge and work in the same administrative building in downtown Oakland where her father worked as a janitor for 16 years.

"I want to be the Miss San Francisco that brings San Francisco with me and leaves the city a better place," she said. "I think my story is part of America and I want to see America in me. My win is our win, all of us together."

The 2023 Miss California Week kicks off June 25 at the Visalia Convention Center in the San Joaquin Valley city's downtown. The finals will take place Saturday, July 1.

For more information about the pageant and how to enter, click here.

Updated, 3/29/23 This article has been updated to state that Ms. Lace said she was raped while in a residential hotel.

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