The Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., recently marked “LGBT Pride Month” with a reception for Israeli activists and leaders. About 100 people attended the gathering, which featured an address by Talleen Abu Hana, an Arab Christian from the northern Israeli city of Nazareth who won the first Miss Trans Israel beauty pageant in 2016.

The embassy also paid tribute to the 49 victims of last year’s massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Fla..

“Just as the noxious fumes of anti-Semitism ultimately poison all of society, so too hatred towards the LGBT community threatens all of us,” Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said in brief remarks.

He asserted that Israel is the sole country in the Middle East with the “values that progressives are supposed to champion,” referring to Israel’s legal and popular support for gay rights.

Abu Hana spoke about her experiences as a transgender woman in Israel. After winning the beauty pageant, she was runner-up at the Miss Trans Star International Pageant and a contestant on Israel’s version of the television program “Big Brother.”

As a boy growing up in Nazareth, Abu Hana said she grappled with an intense internal conflict between “body and soul.” When she showed an interest in women’s clothes and makeup, she said her father lashed out at her.

“Transforming from the most beloved child to the one everyone hated … I was lost and started thinking of killing myself,” she said.

Abu Hana moved to Tel Aviv, where the LGBT community is known to be strong, vibrant and accepting. One evening while hanging out with new friends, a transgender woman was talking about her transition, Abu Hana recalled. “I didn’t get what she was talking about,” she said.

A male friend said, “She’s transgender, just like you.”

Abu Hana said she was taken aback and insisted she was not transgender. The male friend then took her face in his hands and said, “You are going to be a woman and a beautiful one.”

In an interview before the Pride event at the embassy, Abu Hana emphasized the importance in her life of moving to Tel Aviv, where the support she found as a Christian and an Arab facilitated her transition. Israel’s universal health service covers the costs of sex-reassignment surgery.

“The law is on your side,” Abu Hana said, referring to the ease of changing one’s gender and name on government-issued documents.

After winning Miss Trans in 2016, Abu Hana quickly rose to fame in Israel, where she is often mobbed by fans eager to take a selfie with her. In addition to modeling, she speaks to transgender youth at shelters in Tel Aviv and most recently at Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ community center in Washington. She said she is humbled to be “an ambassador for peace between one’s soul [and] one’s body.”

Abu Hana now lives with her boyfriend, whom she met before her transition on a night of dancing at a Tel Aviv club.

“I’m lucky to be an Israeli,” she said. “Being an Israeli means being truly free.”

Giovanna Paz writes for the JTA international news agency and wire service.

Photo: Talleen Abu Hana recently visited the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., to speak about her experiences as a transgender woman in Israel. (Ron Kampeas)

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