Trump, former Miss Pennsylvania in beauty of a disagreement



Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, especially if it angers Donald Trump.

Three days after the Miss USA Organization selected a new queen in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania representative Sheena Monnin had resigned her title and was being threatened with a lawsuit by pageant co-owner Mr. Trump.

Ms. Monnin, 27, of Cranberry, Butler County, drew the ire of The Donald when she resigned via email on Monday. She also posted a statement on her personal Facebook page that accused the organization of running a fixed pageant.

The statement has since been removed, but it hasn't quelled a social media frenzy over her actions or Mr. Trump's response.

According to the post, an unidentified contestant told Ms. Monnin she had viewed a list of women who were to be in the top five. Ms. Monnin said those women, including winner Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island, were indeed the final five.

The pageant finals were televised Sunday night on NBC. Mr. Trump, appearing on NBC's "Today" Wednesday morning, called Ms. Monnin a sore loser who was angry because she didn't have what it takes to be Miss USA.

"My impression was, she didn't have a chance of being in the top 15," said Mr. Trump, who also owns the international Miss USA pageant as well as the Canadian affiliate. "When she uses the word 'fraud,' that's pretty strong. So we're suing her on that basis."

She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

It is unclear what he and the organization intend to request in a lawsuit. Mr. Trump also said an internal investigation of the matter doesn't support her claims.

He repeated his intent to sue on ABC's "Good Morning America," where host George Stephanopoulos broke into the phone interview to say "You're going to sue her?"

Randy Sanders -- who produces Miss USA pageants in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, West Virginia, Indiana and Vermont -- also serves as manager for the young women who represent their states.

He said he did not agree with his former client's stand: "As a society where we still have freedom of speech, people can make assumptions. But there still have to be boundaries."

And there are those who aren't buying Ms. Monnin's reason for the resignation. In April, she had discussed her discomfort with Mr. Sanders about the Miss USA's new policy that would allow transgender women to compete.

Mr. Sanders received an email from Ms. Monnin early Monday morning saying she was officially resigning. In part, it read "I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural-born males to compete in it."

"This goes against ever [sic] moral fiber in my being."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement Wednesday: "She says she is upset about a lack of honesty and fair play in the contest, but the real lack of honesty may be her unwillingness to publicly express her apparent transphobia."

The issue of allowing transgender women into the Miss Universe pageant came to light in April, when Jenna Talackova qualified for Canada's televised finals.

It was revealed that Ms. Talackova had been born a male named Walter, and at 19 began surgery for gender reassignment. She was disqualified, but Mr. Trump changed the policy to include transgender women after noting that according to Canadian documents, Ms. Talackova was indeed legally female.

"Sheena Monnin apparently decided to quit, rather than be aligned with an organization that treats all women as women," Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, social media was abuzz with the news. Support for Ms. Monnin flooded onto her Facebook page, mostly in support of her decision to leave over the transgender issue.

The fallout was far-reaching, even extending to the Miss America pageant. The brainy older sister to Miss USA, the Miss America Scholarship Organization awards money that goes straight into the women's educational funds.

It also has a talent aspect in the competition. But many still confuse Miss America and Miss USA as similar entities. In fact Ford City's Kathy Rashlich, the business manager for Pennsylvania's Miss America program, received interview requests from a number of news groups Wednesday, including TMZ and CNN.

"Well, we both have girls with crowns on their heads," she said wryly.

Online news services from coast to coast, as well as the United Kingdom's Daily Mail, ran with the story. Rima Fakih, who was Miss USA 2010, was not a fan of Ms. Monnin, tweeting: "Yes I love the new miss USA @MissUSA just need to shut the sore losers up so [we] can see more of her!"

Indeed, a statement from the Miss USA Organization adopted a similarly indignant tone:

"Today she has changed her story by publicly making false accusations claiming that the pageant was fixed, however, the contestant she privately sourced as her reference has vehemently refuted her most recent claim.

"We are disappointed that she would attempt to steal the spotlight from Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island on her well-deserved Miss USA win."

Who now steps into the vacated Miss Pennsylvania role? In this case, there are several options. Valerie Compeggie, a graduate of Canon McMillan High School and West Virginia University, was first runner-up to Ms. Monnin. Julia Belechak, a Vincentian Academy student from Cranberry, is the reigning Miss Pennsylvania Teen.

Mr. Sanders stressed no plans have been made.

Ms. Monnin, whose Facebook page lists her secondary education as the online University of Phoenix, and has participated in Miss USA state pageants in Texas and Florida, was not responding to media requests.

Around 1:30 p.m., she finally posted: "At this time I am considering which media outlet to give my first interview. Thank you for your encouragement, support, and kind words."

state - lifestyle - people

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published June 7, 2012 4:00 AM


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