Let’s make one thing clear: Latin America has always been a hostile territory towards the LGBTQ+ community. One need only look at the hate crime figures in the continent to understand the risk involved in being part of this community and living freely in Latin America.
However, this reality does not imply that our culture and idiosyncrasy are exempt from influential LGBTQ+ icons, such as Juan Gabriel and Ana Gabriel.
‘El Divo de Juárez’
Telling the story of Juan Gabriel, “El Divo de Juárez,” seems unnecessary, being one of the most influential singers, songwriters, and performers in Latin music history.
After trying to make a career as a singer-songwriter in the ‘60s under the pseudonym Adán Luna, Juan Gabriel took off a decade later adopting the name Juan Gabriel, with ten songs that would shape his first album “El Alma Joven.”
The success was almost immediate, and the young musician would become the romantic voice of Mexico. Four years later, and with the personality that characterized him, he ventured into mariachi, sealing his genre of ranchera ballads that would make him famous even after his death.
But for those who listened to him and saw him live, Juan Gabriel was something like the Mexican Elton John. His flamboyant wardrobe and delicate mannerisms spoke of a subtext to his identity that had no place in the macho Mexican culture.
However, and despite many diverting attention from the elephant on the stage, during the 1980s and 1990s, Juan Gabriel would not only cement his success, but would propel the careers of other artists such as Rocío Dúrcal, Luis Miguel, and, obviously, Ana Gabriel.
Juan Gabriel was frequently attacked and mocked for his silence about his sexual orientation. However, in a television interview in 2002, he responded to a direct question from host Fernando del Rincón about whether he was gay: “They say that what you see, you don’t ask, mijo.”
El Divo de Juárez thus gave a tacit and proud endorsement to a silent and persecuted LGBTQ+ community, stoically assuming that, like his identity, not everything had to do with labels.
One song unites two icons
While Juan Gabriel was already a successful musician in Mexico in the late 1970s, a young woman named María Guadalupe-Araújo Yong was changing her name to Ana Gabriel on the recommendation of her manager to break into the nightlife music scene in Tijuana.
After winning a songwriting contest in 1980 and participating in the OTI Festival, Ana Gabriel began to position herself as one of Mexico’s most promising voices in the ballad genre.
One of her most successful songs, Luna — the title of the 1993 album of the same name — was written and donated by Juan Gabriel to give that last boost to a career that promised to break the glass ceiling.
However, little was known about Ana’s personal life until October 2020, when journalist Jorge Carbajal revealed on his YouTube channel the romance between Ana Gabriel and actress and presenter Verónica Castro, the reason for their love behind Gabriel’s 1998 hit Simplemente Amigos.
Carbajal assured that Ana Gabriel wanted to make the courtship public, but Veronica, who preferred to keep her image as a traditional telenovela heroine, refused.
He also affirmed that Ana’s make-up artist confessed that the singer was very excited with the actress and presenter, but La Vero later warned her that she would not see her again.
These versions aroused suspicions about whether the lyrics of Ana Gabriel’s songs are dedicated to women, as has been widely speculated since many of her songs speak of hidden loves and the desire to show oneself as one is.
Ana Gabriel and Juan Gabriel were the Original Queer Heroes
Although other singers like Chavela Vargas had broken with gender stereotypes in the Latin American music scene, before Ricky Martin or Javiera Mena, it was Ana Gabriel and Juan Gabriel who lived the silence of identity on center stage.
And it wasn’t just any stage; it was the pop culture stage that filled the tabloids with whispers and lucubrations, making them both the true queer heroes of Latin American romantic music.