Bianka Rodríguez was leaving a San Salvador shopping centre when a man with a gun came up and forced her into his car. He proceeded to drive aimlessly around the city, rattling off a list of places she frequented to make it clear that he had been stalking her. He rifled through her purse, sniffed her hair and threatened to kill her.
The man eventually released Rodriguez unharmed, but the incident was a terrifying reminder of the risks she faces as a transgender woman in her native El Salvador.
“I was sure I was about to become one more statistic – yet another murdered trans woman,” said Rodriguez, now 26, who serves as president and executive director of a San Salvador-based NGO called Comcavis Trans. For her courageous work on behalf of El Salvador’s LGBTI and trans communities, Rodriguez has been chosen as the regional winner for the Americas of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, a prestigious annual prize that honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support forcibly displaced and stateless people.
“In El Salvador, we trans people get harassed, beaten, extorted, and killed,” said Venus Nolasco, a 40-year-old trans woman who was attending a recent workshop sponsored by Comcavis. “Bianka is one of us, so she understands everything we’re up against. She’s extremely brave, and I really admire her.”