To talk about Juan Gabriel is to talk about Mexican and Latin American history. But for the LGBTQ+ community, El Divo de Juárez is much more than a piece of history. He is an icon.

Juan Gabriel didn’t need to officially come out to become a symbol of courage. Likewise, his impact on the Spanish-speaking world cannot be underestimated, as his extraordinary talent and flamboyant style forever changed the international music scene.

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In addition, Juan Gabriel is the talent behind thousands of songs. Throughout his prolific career, the Mexican singer is credited with composing over 1,800 songs performed by more than 1,500 artists worldwide.

But his unapologetic self-expression transformed him into the definitive icon for queer Latinos worldwide.

In fact, even President Barack Obama himself praised him as “one of the greats of Latin music.”

When Juan Gabriel passed away on August 28, 2016, celebrity journalist Jorge Ramos emphasized the need to acknowledge the pain felt by many Latinos.

After all, Juan Gabriel’s influence was enormous and transcended cultural and linguistic barriers.

Juan Gabriel’s powerful legacy

Juan Gabriel’s ability to touch the hearts of people from all backgrounds made him unique in history.

His music resonated deeply with audiences ranging from indie singer Carla Morrison to actor Gael García Bernal.

At his funeral, famous Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais celebrated El Divo de Juarez’s “defiant shoulder movement, the self-confessed study of the divas, the elegance of someone who goes for glory amongst the jeering of the condemned.”

Most recently, at a sold-out concert at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium in December of last year, Bad Bunny paid tribute to El Divo de Juarez.

And two weeks ago, when mitú was at the Santa Rita Fair in Chihuahua, Spanish singer-songwriter Natalia Jiménez and pop star Belinda dedicated part of their performances to the singer. The audience sang at the top of their lungs, some with tears in their eyes.

However, it was within the LGBTQ+ community where Juan Gabriel found his tribe

Through his flamboyant style and unabashed expression of gender and sexuality, Juan Gabriel became a symbol of liberation for queer Latinos.

The ballad singer defied societal expectations, embracing his feminine appearance and captivating audiences with his daring performances and stunning queer looks.

His 1980 hit, “Vamos al Noa Noa,” was a bold statement for the LGBTQ+ community. Juan Gabriel sang to the Noa Noa Noa cabaret in Ciudad Juarez, known for catering to the underground gay crowd.

“Vamos al Noa Noa,” sang El Divo. “Este es un lugar de ambiente donde todo es diferente.”

From then on, throughout Latin America, the word “ambiente” became equivalent to “gay.”

Although this was a direct confession of the singer’s homosexuality for those in the know, Juan Gabriel never spoke openly about his private life. 

And the media never seemed to pay attention because talent overshadowed all other issues when it came to the Divo de Juárez.

Juan Gabriel’s sexuality was not taboo. Quite the contrary

While his non-traditional gender expression and rumors were often overlooked by fans and the general public, for Juan Gabriel’s LGBTQ+ fans, there was nothing to clarify.

But during a televised interview with then-Univision anchor Fernando del Rincón, Juan Gabriel gave the entire world an unforgettable lesson.

When Del Rincón asked him directly about his sexuality, Juan Gabriel replied, “Lo que se ve no se pregunta, hijo” (“You don’t have to ask about what’s evident”). His cryptic answer put the matter to rest and is considered today as the singer’s official coming out.

But it was a coming out on his own terms that inspired millions.

Renowned Chicano gay poet Eduardo C. Corral shared a personal story highlighting how Juan Gabriel’s influence helped his parents come to terms with their own homosexuality.

This experience echoed the sentiment of many LGBTQ+ Latinos, as Juan Gabriel’s presence in their homes and his familiarity with homosexuality challenged traditional family norms.

Perhaps this was his most important legacy to the LGBTQ+ community.

Still, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “Although Juan Gabriel never publicly claimed the gay community, that community certainly claimed him, with his romantic Spanish-language ballads belted late into the night in drag bars on both sides of the border.”