SOMETHING SHOOK THE WORLD OF MUSIC on Sept. 9. After 26 weeks of supremacy, Justin Bieber was thrown from the Youtube throne as the most listened and viewed musician on the internet and Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel took his place. Gabriel’s videos experienced a 600 percent increase, reaching a total viewership of 316 million people.
Just a week prior, a heart attack ended Gabriel’s life on August 28, submerging Mexico and its citizens abroad into profound mourning. In the following few weeks, the Mexican media was flooded with information about “El Divo de Juarez.” As a recent Mexican resident, I didn’t know about Juan Gabriel until his death. And through all of the unavoidable media bombarding, I learned that he was an icon of Mexican culture, one of the most famous and loved Mexican singers, composers, music producers, and actors in the history of this country.
It also became clear that – although he never attended any Pride event nor publicly supported the LGBTTT community, he was considered one of the most important Mexican representatives of LGBTTT identity and a figure who has contributed to a major acceptance of sexual diversity in Mexico. Gabriel never spoke openly about his sexual orientation, yet every Mexican would undoubtedly confirm that he was gay. In one of the most significant interviews for Univision in 2002, Gabriel responded ambiguously to the question of whether he was gay with: “You don’t ask what you see.”
The extent of Gabriel’s importance became obvious when his remains were returned to Mexico from the United States where he had given his last concert.
Authorities of Ciudad Juarez, where Gabriel grew up and became famous, have posthumously granted him an honorable title, “The Favorite Son,” and named a city square after him. Several cities organized tribute events, with a culmination in the capital, Mexico City, where the Palace of Fine Arts hosted the legend’s ashes for two days. With tears in the eyes and Gabriel’s tunes in the air, more than 700,000 people crammed themselves in front of the country’s most important cultural institution to have a last glimpse of their idol’s urn.
It was an event Mexico hadn’t seen for a long time. But only nine days after Gabriel’s great farewell show, another historic event took place.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the streets of more than 120 cities all across the country – this time not to celebrate love and peace but to spread homophobia and discrimination. Only in Guadalajara, the second biggest Mexican city and the capital of Jalisco, 70,000 people defended “the most important of society’s institutes: marriage between a man and woman, and natural family,” as stated by their organizer, Frente Nacional por la Familia. Although its announcement of joining more than a million Mexicans didn’t come true, it managed to send a powerful message: We’re willing to stand up against LGBTT rights.
This was also a march Mexico hadn’t seen for decades.
It all began four months ago, when President Enrique Peña Nieto declared that all Mexicans should have an opportunity to be happy, no matter their social condition and sexual orientation. President Nieto announced an initiative by which same-sex marriage could be performed in any federative entity. The proposed reform of the 4th article of the Mexican Constitution and state civil codes would guarantee the rights of persons of the same sex to marry under the same conditions as heterosexuals, as well as establish equal adoption requirements.
The initiative, announced on the National Day of Fight Against Homophobia, incorporated the Mexican Supreme Court’s decision from June 2015. The verdict, considered one of the great victories over homophobia in the country, determined that any Mexican state law that defines marriage only as a relation between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. It explained that family has other social roles than mere procreation and that preventing same-sex marriage is discriminatory.
In Mexico, every state regulates the institution of marriage differently according to its civil code. Same-sex marriage is legalized in 11 of 32 federal entities (Ciudad de Mexico, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Nayarit, Jalisco, Campeche, Michoacan, Morelos, Estado de Mexico and Colima). After the Supreme Court’s verdict, marriage within the lesbian and gay communities became possible in all other states as well, however only if the couple presents a court appeal (the judge has an obligation to rule in favor). Nevertheless, if successful, the president’s initiative would eliminate the need for such judicial procedures.
The massiveness of demonstrations against same-sex marriage was surprising, but when you look at the country’s history, maybe not so much. According to the most recent information compiled by the Citizen’s Commission Against Homophobia Hate Crimes, 1,310 homophobia-related murders were reported in Mexico in the last 20 years, although the real number is estimated to be three or four times higher. This data suggests that Mexico occupies second place in the world in the number of homophobia-related crimes, right after Brazil.
The commission also noted an increasing wave of violence and aggressions against the LGBTT community in the months following the president’s announcement. At least 26 persons were killed due to their sexual orientation in the first 6 months of 2016, and some of the cruelest cases were committed after the proposal.
The two massive gatherings – a tribute to Juan Gabriel and the demonstrations against same-sex marriage – are seemingly unrelated events, yet have a deep significance that have taught me a valuable lesson: being gay in Mexico is kind of acceptable, as long as you don’t claim your rights to be respected and as long as you don’t proclaim it publicly. And the LGBTT activists I’ve spoken with seem to agree.
It’s all evidenced in the hypocrisy of these two events. Undoubtedly some the mourners who were willing to spend the night in the coldness and concrete of Mexico City, so they could be among the first people to enter the Palace of Fine Arts and pay respect to Juanga — one of the most popular, yet gay, Mexican men in recent history — marched against LGBTT rights just a few days later.
But even with that hypocrisy in mind, the organizers of the anti-LGBTT marches may fail to make history at the level that Juan Gabriel did.
Frente Nacional por la Familia – composed by more than a thousand civil society institutions and backed by church and ultraconservative fractions of right-wing political parties – organized another demonstration, a mega national march in Mexico City on Sept. 24 that should have confirmed citizens’ overall rejection of same-sex marriage. According to the organization’s report, more than 400,000 people gathered on the streets of the capital, but the real number was much lower. In a city of more than 20 million inhabitants, only between 15 and 30 thousand protesters were counted by the police.
By abstaining from participating in this last march, people demonstrated what statistics have been saying for a long time: that the typical Mexican home, kept by a married woman and man with children, is a myth. Of almost 29 million homes only 40.7 percent consist of married heterosexual partners with shared children.
So yes, there is hope for equal LGBTT rights in Mexico.