TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel’s first transgender beauty pageant, won by a Christian Arab on Friday, brought together contestants from the Holy Land’s main faiths in an unconventional show of tolerance and coexistence.
In what organisers described as an ethnic “mosaic”, the 12 vying for the Miss Trans Israel 2016 crown included a Jewish confectioner from an Orthodox Jerusalem family, a Muslim belly-dancer from Tel Aviv and a Christian ballerina from Nazareth.
The Christian, Taleen Abu Hanna, won and will represent Israel at the Miss Trans Star International pageant in Barcelona in September - a role she will evidently relish.
“Our country deserves to come out on top,” Abu Hanna, 21, told journalists. “Our country allowed me, a Christian Arab from Nazareth, to end the war between my soul and my body. So if it made peace for me, our country is only a country of peace.”
Unlike elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel has mostly liberal laws on sexual identity, with openly gay and transgender troops in its conscript military.
But people who are homosexual or transgender often face hostility from religious conservatives in the Jewish majority and Muslim and Christian Arab minorities. An ultra-Orthodox Jew is on trial for murder, accused of killing a teenage girl in a stabbing spree at last year’s Jerusalem gay pride parade.
“Israeli people like transgenders but they don’t have enough information about transgenders,” said pageant judge Efrat Tilma at the prestigious venue, Tel Aviv’s Habima National Theatre.
“Among us there are judges, there are doctors, there are lawyers, there are people who are working in hi-tech positions and, as well, people who would like to go to the Israeli parliament and to represent us in our parliament.”
Carolin Khoury, a Muslim contestant, said she hoped Friday’s contest would “send a message to the Arab communities in Israel or abroad, to accept the other”.
She described overcoming sometimes violent opposition to her gender choice from her family.
“The Israeli police helped me to move out of my home, and despite all of the bad situations, I came through, I kept moving toward my dream, and here I am now,” she told Reuters. “This competition will open the door for some people.”
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens