R’Bonney Gabriel – a fashion designer, model and sewing teacher from Texas – has become the first Filipino American to win Miss Universe.
Last year, she became the first Filipino American to win the Miss USA title.
Women representing 84 different countries took part in the 71st Miss Universe competition, held in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Saturday.
The contest, which in the past has been labelled sexist, includes “personal statements, in depth interviews and various categories including evening gown and swimwear”.
Gabriel is a former high school volleyball player and graduate of the University of North Texas. A short bio on the organisation’s website says she is also CEO of her own sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola.
In the final stage Q&A, she was asked how she would demonstrate Miss Universe was “an empowering and progressive organisation” if she were to win.
The 28-year-old spoke about using recycled materials in her fashion designs and teaching sewing to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence.
She concluded: “We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds to other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change.”
The panel of 10 judges included two former winners, as well as a musician, actress, dermatologist, fashion designer, journalist, and a former Miss USA.
Miss Venezuela took second place and Miss Dominican Republic came third.
Last year’s winner, Harnaaz Sandhu of India, presented Gabriel with her tiara, sash and bouquet.
The pageant also put a spotlight on mental health, with the mother of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst – who had been diagnosed with depression and took her own life in January last year – paying tribute to her daughter.
Miss Universe announced a new fund in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and named in Kryst’s honour.
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Miss Universe Organization owner Anne Jakkaphong hailed it as a “new era” for the competition, saying “from now on it’s going to be run by women, owned by a trans woman, for all women around the world to celebrate the power of feminism”.
The 43-year-old billionaire and transgender activist is the CEO of JKN Global Group PCL, the Thai media company that bought the Miss Universe Organization for $20m (£16.6m) last October.
Between 1996 and 2015 the rights to the pageant were part-owned by former US president Donald Trump.
Ms Jakkaphong, who has previously said she was inspired by chat show host Oprah Winfrey, has often spoken about life as a transgender woman, and is now the first woman to host a beauty pageant in the US.
Under the competition’s new ownership, rules have been relaxed to allow mothers and married and divorced women to enter for the first time in 70 years.