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Is a Trans Beauty Contest a Sign of Progress for LGBT Rights in Israel?

Tel Aviv will host Israel's first transgender beauty pageant.

Participants wave Israeli's flags during the annual gay pride parade in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 13, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants wave Israeli's flags during the annual gay pride parade in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 13, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Middle East, Tel Aviv has long been seen as a safe haven for the LGBT community. And this year, the city — dubbed the Middle East’s best gay travel destination by GayCities.com in 2011 — will host Israel’s first-ever transgender beauty pageant.

The winner, Miss Trans Israel, will go on to compete in an international competition in Spain, the Miss Trans Star International Pageant.

One of the prospective contestants, Talleen Abu Hanna, told the Associated Press that she sees the contest as a chance to publicly display her talents, and her value. “I have this something, I am a dancer, and I am a singer, I play the trumpet,” she said. “I have something to give the people.”

In Israel, the contestants and pageant organizer told the Associated Press that Israel has become more accepting of transgender people in recent years. “Definitely we are achieving, enlightening the people to accept and empower transsexuals,” said pageant organizer Israela Stephanie Lev.

Despite Israel’s relatively progressive social policies, which includes allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, there are still challenges to the LGBT community there. At last year’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem a teenage girl was stabbed to death by an extremist ultra-Orthodox Jew protesting the open display of homosexuality.

Tel Aviv’s yearly pride parade is the largest in the Middle East and Asia. Some 30,000 tourists came to town for it last year, and around 180,000 walked in it — more than 40 percent of the city’s population.

Beauty pageants have proven one way to empower and create visibility for transgender individuals, although a group of women competing to be named the prettiest and most likeable might not always strike the most progressive chord. Just last month, Miss Transgender United Kingdom was stripped of her title after she was filmed wearing clothes that the organization deemed to not be feminine enough.

Photo credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert

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