CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan enthusiasm for beauty pageants is unparalleled, and Miss Venezuela — everyone’s crown jewel — may be the only event capable of uniting the deeply divided country. Once a year, class, race and politics are pushed aside as the South American nation tunes in to see who will represent Venezuela on the world stage.
Behind the cheers and applause of the women vying for the coveted title is a deeply conservative society with little or no tolerance for any challenge to heteronormative norms. Sofia Salomón is ready to challenge that.
The Instagram influencer and model has applied to compete in this year’s Miss Venezuela pageant. If accepted, she will be the first transgender woman to participate.
“I think it’s a great platform to bring visibility to my community, echo the positive things and show people the reality of transgender women,” Salomón said.
With no end in sight for the protracted crisis that has pushed millions of Venezuelans into poverty and 7.3 million to migrate, LGBTQ+ rights are hardly a tabletop topic for families or a dominant campaign issue in the race to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro in 2024.
The Pride march scheduled for Sunday in the capital, Caracas, could attract hundreds of people, but there is almost no acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community nationwide, unlike some other Latin American countries. to conservative and Roman Catholic values. And Venezuelans who often idolize the European way of life have largely resisted the community’s broad inclusion on that continent and its rejection of homophobia and transphobia.
Venezuela’s highest court in May repealed a law that punished consensual same-sex conduct by the military, but delayed for seven years a decision on a case seeking to give same-sex couples the right to marry.
She has also not ruled on the Tamara Adrian case, which she filed with the court in 2004. The transgender woman legally wants to change her name and sex on her birth certificate and in public records. The government argues the law already allows it, but Adrian and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which examines human rights abuses in the hemisphere, disagree. She requested hearings and filed more than 30 briefs in her case with no response.
Nevertheless, Adrian became the country’s first transgender lawmaker in 2015, representing a Caracas district, and in June this year entered the opposition presidential primary race, hoping to oust Maduro.
“In order to see changes in social matters, the State must implement public policies, and in this sense there is undoubtedly a penetration of changes (in other Latin American countries) that you do not can’t see in Venezuela,” Adrian said. “There’s often not even an awareness here that a certain phrase is racist or homophobic or transphobic or misogynistic.”
Last year, Salomón finished in the top six of Miss International Queen, the world’s largest beauty pageant for transgender women. During the event, she mentioned the law that Adrian is fighting.
“I would like to see this law changed so that transgender women can be accepted with whatever name they feel safer in,” she said.
A transgender woman was selected in February to compete in Puerto Rico’s Miss Universe – a first for the Caribbean island – bolstering Salomón’s hopes of entering the Venezuela pageant. She said her parents, siblings and boyfriend were supportive of her decision to apply, and the comments and emojis on her Instagram posts were overwhelmingly positive.
The Miss Venezuela organization did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Miss Venezuela winners continue to compete in Miss Universe, and the global pageant opened up to transgender contestants in 2012. will never accept this position. ”
Marcia Ochoa, associate professor of critical feminist, racial and ethnic studies at UC Santa Cruz, applauded Salomón’s efforts.
“She’s doing something that has a lot of meaning for a Venezuelan person,” Ochoa said, insisting that Venezuelan culture has room for an idiosyncratic gender identity: miss. “You can see someone and say whether or not they’re in a beauty pageant because they look like a beauty pageant contestant. You can say: ‘es toda una miss.’ The phrase encapsulates a genuinely Venezuelan compliment, namely that a perfectly put-together woman “is absolutely a Miss (Venezuela).”
In 2018 Angela Ponce from Spain became the first transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe, and last year a Thai business magnate and a transgender woman bought the Miss Universe organization – once partly owned by the former US President Donald Trump – for $20 million.
Miss Venezuela winners gain instant fame that can lead to positions of influence. Miss Universe 1981 winner Irene Sáez became mayor of a municipality in Caracas, and she ran for president in 1998, losing to Hugo Chávez.
Caracas resident Josefina Mejia has watched Miss Venezuela for decades with her family and friends. They pick their favorites and have a friendly competition to see which pick will win. Mejia, 65, said she doesn’t oppose Salomón’s efforts but would prefer that transgender women stay out of the pageant.
“It’s a conservative society, and sometimes we judge people even though we shouldn’t be judging,” Mejia said. “I would like a separate competition for this sex.”
Venezuela’s activist-run LGBTIQ+ Violence Observatory reported at least 97 cases of violence against community members nationwide in 2022, including 11 homicides. The numbers are likely an undercount as many cases go unreported. A formal complaint was lodged with the authorities in at least 10% of cases.
Salomón, who is interested in a career in real estate, received a confirmation email that the Miss Venezuela organization received her application, but she still doesn’t know if she was accepted. She said she thinks her modeling and pageant background gives her an edge over other contestants.
“I am of the opinion that the experience cannot be improvised,” said Salomón. “That’s why people believe I’m going to write the history of the country.”