NEW YORK — Transgender television personality and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner was honored with a “Champion of Israel and LGBTQ rights” award during the sixth annual World Values Network gala on Thursday night in New York.
The organization, headed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, aims to annually recognize individuals who “honor human rights and defend the protections and values of democracies like Israel.”
Among the honorees were also former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, United States Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and Israel’s representative at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant, Adar Gandelsman. The evening took place in the presence of leaders of the New York Jewish community and representatives of Israel in the United States.
“I really feel like a true measure of a country’s character is how they treat their minorities,” said guest of honor Jenner from the podium in the crowded Plaza Hotel ballroom on Thursday. “For the entire Middle East and the rest of the world, Israel is a beacon of hope.
“In a region where entire religions are banned, women are persecuted, gay men are sentenced to death, Israel is a long-standing refuge for the LGBT people,” she continued.
Jenner began her speech by speaking of her various encounters with the Diaspora Jewish community and Israel over the years. She described having witnessed the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, just four years before she won the gold medal.
“What I really like about the Jewish community is how they are so committed to family,” she added. “For me, I am very blessed to have a very large family.”
She applauded Israel for having no restrictions on military service based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while the United States “is trying to stop qualified transgender people from serving.”
“I stand with the estimated 15,000 transgender soldiers currently serving in the military and the estimated 130,000 more transgender people that are veterans,” she said to the audience, which included people close to the Trump administration. “We love our nation and we want to defend it.”
Jenner, who came out publicly as a transgender woman in 2015, is also known for being the stepfather of the famous Kardashian sisters. In her speech Thursday, she pointed out the “strong connection between the LGBT and the Jewish communities.”
“First of all, we seem to attract a lot of enemies don’t we? Tyrants, religious fundamentalists, white nationalists, radical Islamic terrorists, we got them all,” she said, as many guests sitting at the round tables in the room nodded in agreement.
“I wear that hatred as a badge of honor. They hate us because of what we stand for: freedom, opportunity, diversity and most of all we stand for love,” said Jenner.
Leading up to Thursday night’s event, the choice of Caitlyn Jenner for the award drew some controversy. Boteach’s World Values Network faced angry social media posts after announcing it back in January.
In a video on Facebook responding to the criticism, Boteach said Jenner’s message is “critical.”
“There should be no debate as to whether or not a gay man or a transgender woman should be protected in any country in which they live. Universal Jewish values proclaim that any life is of infinite value, every person is a child of God,” he said.
“We need not agree with people’s lifestyles, we need not endorse them. It makes no difference when it comes to the basic democratic protections that must be given to them,” he added.
Boteach repeated some of his comments on stage Thursday before introducing Jenner and her fellow honorees.
“The fact [is] that Caitlyn Jenner, a great friend of the Jewish people and a great friend of Israel, has the courage to get up and boldly proclaim that Israel is a bastion of human rights that should be emulated, that should be copied in the Middle East,” said Boteach.