Transgender Salvadoran killed despite long search for safety

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A friend shows a digital picture of Zashy Zuley del Cid Velasquez on a mobile device, in San Miguel, El Salvador, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. The 27-year-old Del Cid was shot dead April 25, sending shockwaves through the city's close-knit LGBTQ community. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

SAN MIGUEL – Rejected by her family, Zashy Zuley del Cid Velásquez fled her coastal village in 2014, the first of a series of forced displacements across El Salvador. She had hoped that in the larger city of San Miguel she could live as a transgender woman without discrimination and violence, but there she was threatened by a gang.

She moved away from San Miguel then back again in a series of forced moves until the 27-year-old was shot dead on April 25, sending shockwaves through the close-knit LGBTQ community in San Miguel, the largest city in eastern El Salvador.

“Zashy was desperate; her family didn’t want her because of her sexual preference 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 United States, but they killed her with a shot through her lung.”

One day after Del Cid’s murder, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris identified anti-LGBTQ violence in Central America as one of the root causes of migration in the region during a virtual meeting with the president of neighboring Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei. She is scheduled to visit Guatemala and Mexico this week.

Transgender migrants were present in the Central American caravans that attempted to reach the United States border in recent years, fleeing harassment, gang extortion, murder and police indifference to crimes against them. Even in those large migrant movements say they faced harassment.

Things had been rough during Del Cid’s first stint in San Miguel. She and Nolasco had been living in a neighborhood where, as in many parts of the country, the MS-13 gang was the ultimate local authority. Gang members began to harass her, then brutally beat her, breaking her arm in 2015, Nolasco said.

“They warned her to leave, but she didn’t listen,” Nolasco said.

Instead of leaving, Del Cid moved in with Nolasco in the same neighborhood. One day, the gang grabbed Del Cid again.