SAN MIGUEL, El Salvador
(AP) — After being rejected by her family, Zashy Zuley del Cid Velásquez
fled her coastal village in 2014, the first in a series of forced displacements across El Salvador. She hoped that in the larger city of San Miguel, she could live as a transgender
woman without discrimination and violence, but she was threatened by a gang.
She moved away from San Miguel and then back in a series of forced moves until the 27-year-old was shot dead on April
25, sending shockwaves through the city's close-knit LGBTQ community.
“Zashy was desperate; her family didn’t want her because of her sexual orientation, and the gangsters had threatened her,” said Venus
Nolasco, director of the San Miguel LGBTQ collective “Pearls of the East.” “She knew they were going to kill her; she wanted to flee the country, go to the US, but they killed her with a shot through her lung.”
During a virtual meeting with the president
of neighboring Guatemala
, Alejandro Giammattei, one day after Del Cid's murder
, US Vice President Kamala Harris
identified anti-LGBTQ violence in Central America
as one of the root causes of migration in the region; she is scheduled to visit Guatemala and Mexico this week.
were present in the Central American caravans that attempted to reach the US border
in recent years, fleeing harassment, gang extortion
, murder, and police
indifference to crimes against them. Even in those large migrant movements, transgender migrants say they were harassed.
Del Cid and Nolasco had been living in a neighborhood where the MS-13 gang was the ultimate local authority, as it is in many parts of the country. Gang members began harassing her, then brutally beating her, breaking her arm in 2015, according to Nolasco.
“They warned her to leave, but she didn't,” Nolasco explained.
Instead of fleeing, Del Cid moved in with Nolasco in the same neighborhood, where he was kidnapped again one day.
“They took her, they wanted to kill her,” Nolasco explained, “and I begged them not to kill her, to let her go so she could leave the neighborhood.”
Del Cid returned to her hometown, but her family rejected her again; she tried to please them, but she couldn't, according to Nolasco. Del Cid joined a church, got a girlfriend, and had a baby girl, but she couldn't sustain that life, according to Nolasco.
Del Cid returned to San Miguel, where things appeared to be improving; in 2020, she received humanitarian and housing
assistance from COMCAVIS TRANS, a national LGBTQ rights
organization, and the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees
Del Cid rented a home and opened a beauty salon there; she hired another woman to assist her and was enrolled in an entrepreneurship program; and she was preparing a business
proposal to move the salon out of her home and into its own space
However, Del Cid was shot in the back while walking down the street alone at night, and passersby tried to help her and took her to a local hospital, where she died. So far, no arrests have been made, and Nolasco believes that, like other hate crimes
in the country, “it will be forgotten; they’re not interested in what happens to us.”
Del Cid's death
terrified her community and saddened everyone who knew her, according to Laura Almirall, UNHCR's representative in El Salvador.
“She was excited about her new plans and her new life, but sadly and tragically, everything came to an end,” she explained.
According to Nolasco, the transgender community in San Miguel, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) east of the capital, faces constant harassment from intolerant residents and gangs. They are stoned, beaten, and extorted, and if they go to police to report it, they are insulted and demeaned.
The “Pearls of the East” group has a parade squad, which Del Cid was a part of, that started with about 50 people
but has since been reduced to 35 due to crime and forced displacement, according to Nolasco.
“No one here does anything to protect us,” said Nolasco.
The forced displacement of transgender people in El Salvador, according to Bianka Rodrguez, director of COMCAVIS TRANS, is increasing year after year, despite the fact that a law
exists to protect people displaced by violence, she says.
According to the organization's report, gangs were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the violence against the LGTBQ community, while government authorities were responsible for the remaining 21%. Since 1993, more than 600 LGBTQ people have been killed in El Salvador, a country of only 6.5 million people.
In 2019, they recorded 84 cases of internal displacement and another eight cases of people fleeing the country but being deported and in need of protection.
“Unfortunately, (multiple displacements) are very common not only for the LGBTI community, but thousands of people in El Salvador have been displaced due to gang violence, and we frequently find that displacement does not occur only once, but families and individuals are displaced more than once,” Almirall, the UNHCR representative, said.
Del Cid “was displaced so many times in the country, and finally she managed to get a new life project and to be a part of the community again, and everything ended so abruptly and tragically,” Almirall said.
This article was contributed to by AP writer
Christopher Sherman in Mexico City