At a ceremony full of feathers, frills and false eyelashes, a 21-year-old Thai was crowned queen of the transsexuals at a weekend beauty contest that bills itself as the world's largest.
Panyrat Kirapatpakon, a Thai business student, beat 24 transsexuals and transvestites at the extravagant pageant in the resort town of Pattaya to the "Miss International Queen" title and the $10,000 prize money.
The contest, in its fourth year, was held at the Tiffany's nightclub famous for its transvestite and transgender cabaret and aims to highlight the status of transsexuals around the world.
The contestants, shortlisted from more than 100 hopefuls, came from 15 countries, with a record number from Europe.
"I'm glad to see more people participating in these pageants and many countries giving more opportunities to transsexuals, because in the past many countries, including Thailand discriminated against us," winner Panyrat said."But this place has opened our chances and allowed the world to see us."
Bangkok is also a global centre for sex-change surgery, and on the surface, predominantly Buddhist Thailand appears very tolerant of homosexuality, with many openly gay celebrities.
Katoeys -- Thai slang for cross-dressers, transvestites or transsexuals -- are common in offices, schools and on television, but activists say Thailand remains deeply conservative at heart and still has many rules discriminating against non-heterosexuals. Like other beauty pageants, the contestants paraded in their national costumes, evening gowns and swimsuits to an audience of more than 1,000 people, many of whom were transsexuals and even more extravagantly dressed.
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