Sofia Salomon: angling to become first trans Miss Venezuela
Sofia Salomon is the picture of concentration as she poses in bathing suits and evening wear for a photo shoot in preparation for what could be an historic campaign.
The 25-year-old model is hoping to become the first-ever transgender woman to vie for the Miss Venezuela crown.
"All eyes are on Miss Venezuela," she told AFP. "Me being there would be making history."
Venezuela is one of the top producers of "Miss" pageant winners: It holds seven Miss Universe titles and six for Miss World.
Beauty competitions are a way of life in the crisis-stricken South American country, with a guaranteed TV viewership of millions for the national pageant.
"Like football is very important in other countries, here it is very important to be a beauty queen," Salomon said between poses.
"When a girl is growing up, if she is tall, skinny, everyone tells her that she should go to Miss Venezuela. So it is something we grow up with, it is a culture, it is a feeling."
Online entries for this year's Miss Venezuela pageant close next Wednesday, after which a panel will interview a shortlist and select 24 finalists.
Organizers did not respond to AFP's queries about whether or not there would be any limitations on Salomon's participation in a deeply conservative and often homophobic society.
- Support and love -
Salomon's campaign has drawn much attention on social media -- both messages of support and homophobic abuse.
But she takes it all in stride.
"Ever since I can remember, I have always had the support of my dad, my mom and all my family," she told AFP.
"I had an excellent childhood full of respect, of love, and so everything becomes easier because you can show society who you really are."
Salomon took part last year in the Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand, the biggest for trans women, and made it into the top six.
"There were many messages on social networks" from people who wanted me to "participate in another contest," she recounted.
"Now that Miss Universe and Miss World accept transgender girls, this opportunity has opened for me to participate in Miss Venezuela."
Angela Ponce broke barriers when in 2018, as Miss Spain, she became the first transgender contestant in Miss Universe.
- 'Hell for many' -
For Salomon, it is not only about personal glory, but also giving "visibility" to people like her in a conservative society.
She models in Spain and Mexico and has her own clothing brand. But not everyone is so lucky.
"Being trans in Venezuela is hell for many people," said Richelle Briceno, a trans woman and activist.
"It is to be excluded and it is to be excluded from equal opportunities."
Salomon's high profile holds a positive message for Venezuelan society, added Briceno, that "trans people survive here and we impose ourselves in the good sense of the word."
Argentina led the pack in Latin America by recognizing official gender changes in 2012, followed by Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru among others.
Venezuela has no legislation in this area, allowing people only to change their names and even this is difficult, according to LGBTQ activists.
Salomon has both Venezuelan and Colombian nationalities.
In Colombia, unlike her country of birth, she is recognized as a woman.
Venezuela also does not allo same-sex couples to marry or adopt children.
"Whatever happens, I will remain a successful woman," Salomon told AFP.