Though it’s easy to take queer representation for granted today, progress has been slower in Latin music, where openly gay role models were scarce. But 11 years after Ricky Martin announced he was gay, becoming Latin’s most prominent LGBTQ+ artist, real change has finally come. In the past two years alone, a striking number of established and rising Latin stars from across genres have come out, including Joy Huerta from sibling duo Jesse & Joy, Jhonny Cazares from regional Mexican band Grupo Firme, electro-cumbia hitmaker Raymix and pop crooner Pablo Alborán. They join the ranks of vocal queer artists like Kany García, who came out in 2016, and Javiera Mena, who has been out since the beginning of her career in the early 2000s.
“There was a bit of uncertainty not knowing what was going to happen, but I’ve always followed my convictions,” says Raymix, 30, of his decision to come out in a YouTube video in 2020. “The reaction was very positive. It felt good knowing society is moving forward and I’m not the only one.”
The diverse Latin music community is hard to generalize. But according to the Human Rights Campaign, obstacles that Latinx LGBTQ+ people face in coming out include religious discrimination and various cultures’ emphasis on machismo, a particular concept of manliness that values strict gender roles. Attitudes have been evolving though, especially as a number of countries have legalized same-sex marriage, including Argentina (2010), Brazil (2013), Uruguay (2013), Colombia (2016), Ecuador (2019) and Costa Rica (2020).
Driving change in the industry, Esteman says, are young creators who are far removed from the generation of execs for whom coming out represented career suicide. And as the industry gets more democratized, the LGBTQ+ artists who break through, in turn, inspire “other artists to believe there is more room than ever to be themselves,” says Roberta Pate, Spotify’s head of artist/label partnerships, Latin America.
Still, Esteman and Raymix say there is more progress to be made, particularly outside of Latin music’s more progressive bubbles. A 2019 survey from the GLSEN Research Institute and Chilean advocacy group Fundación Todo Mejora, found that, in seven different Latin American nations, the majority of LGBTQ+ students ages 13 to 20 faced bullying related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I know I will not be the first or the last,” Raymix says, “but I can encourage other people to be more free — and have complete peace of mind knowing that coming out will not affect their careers.”
This story originally appeared in Billboard’s 2021 Pride Issue, dated June 5, 2021.