Israel's first transgender police officer praised the country's progress when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights during event at the Foreign Ministry meant mark pride month.
Foreign diplomats were invited to attend the event hosted by Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll to discuss changes in Israeli society's attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community in the public service.
Efrat Tilma, who was invited to speak at the event, said although she was not the first, she is not the only transgender on the force. "Three more joined after I did," she said.
Tilma recounted the challenges she faced when she first joined the force as a volunteer.
"In past, we would be thrown out, fired and barred from joining," she said, "I was subjected to physical violence, but more recently things have changed. There is much more openness in the society and after fighting for our rights, and we have managed to liberate ourselves," she said.
"I am happy when I see the Pride Parade. Israel is the only Middle Eastern country where gay people live freely, and are even members of the government," Tilma said.
Tilma also spoke of the hardships still faced by the transgender community in the country, including extremely high suicide rates.
"There is still much work to be done," Tilma said. " We have to help them. They can join the police and the military and even run for Knesset. There are transgender soccer referees, lawyers, soldiers, and cops," she said.
A ministry staffer said the Foreign Ministry was the first in the government to recognize same sex couples among its personnel.
The rights of the LGBTQ+ community is a central part of the Foreign Ministry's campaign to promote human rights.
In addition, Israel is active in international rights forums such as the Equal Rights Coalition, which will convene a ministerial level conference next week. Roll, who is openly gay and married to a man, is set to attend as Israel's representative.
"In order to create change we need people from all walks of life," Roll said. "Change can come from legislators, diplomats, journalists and artists but no less from working people who request pride events in their places of work. You don't have to be an activist to effect change," he said.
Last week, the pride flag was raised over the Foreign Ministry for the first time in Israel's history, at the instruction of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
"I remember myself as a 16-year old boy fearing the future," Roll said. "I hope the moment the flag was raised at the ministry, would serve to instill confidence in young gay boys and girls in Israel and around the world and would relay a message of tolerance and acceptance in Israeli society at large," Roll said.