By KJ Philp, November 2016 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2016 here.
As the sun set Aug. 23, members of the LGBTQ community gathered at Charlie’s for a candlelight vigil celebrating the life of Gabriel Medellin.
From his days as a youth member of Valley One In Ten (VOIT) and Horizons and serving as a youth representative to Creating Change conferences, sponsored by The National LGBTQ Task Force, to his efforts with the Men of Charlie’s (July 2009; coordinator from 2013 to 2015) and co-promoting the Miss Gay Phoenix America pageant with his friend Todd Wycoff (2012-2016), Gabriel left his mark on countless Valley groups, organizations and individuals. But that wasn’t why he did it – giving back to his community was his calling.
It’s with complete sadness [we] report the untimely passing of an amazing AGRA family member, friend and brother Gabriel Medellin … He has been dedicated to the Arizona LGBT community for many years and he has always made an effort to ALWAYS be included in fundraising and helping his fellow brothers and sisters out in any way he can … We will always love you and remember you, friend!
– Arizona Gay Rodeo Association via
This is hard for me. Gabe was my son from another mother. I knew him, raised him and mentored him for 20 years. I watched him evolve from a shy, closeted young man into a strong force and voice for equality. I was with Gabe in Oakland when he participated in his first protest march and he was interviewed about it on camera; his eyes grew big as he realized he came out on national TV. From that moment on, he was unstoppable.
Gabe’s life wasn’t easy. He grew up Mexican in Arizona, in a family populated with machismo, and he was gay. Still he carried himself with a quiet dignity. Even closeted, he had a self-assurance and maturity most 18 year olds didn’t have. I think that is what drew most of us to him; we recognized and saw the man he could be and were rewarded with watching him blossom into that man.
Gabe gave back to the community because he never, ever forgot where he came from; he never forgot his roots or his family. Gabe was steadfastly loyal and spoke truth to the power; but he always spoke his truth from a position of love.
He also had a devilish streak and would push the envelope just to see how you would react, but you couldn’t get mad because he couldn’t hold it together and would start laughing.
You’ve heard the term, “give you the shirt off his back”? Yes. He would. He was full of ideas. I never once heard him wish for material things or great wealth. He just wanted his friends to be safe and healthy, his mom and the kids in his family have everything they needed, and he wanted [LGBTQ] youth to have a space; to have freedom and equality. He wanted to leave this world better than the way he found it. And he did; by God he did.
– Babe Caylor
Abraham Lincoln said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Gabe’s shadow of generosity and love and passion was cast across all manner of diverse organizations and people in Phoenix and beyond, and it is those many shadows that prove the character of the man we lost far too soon this summer. His sudden and devastating loss brought together people from all walks of his life, including his birth family who’d never met his LGBTQ family. Gabe’s personality was perfectly reflective of his Mother, who had for years asked to visit him at Charlie’s – he’d constantly refused to take her but the day we held a vigil for him she made clear she would be going inside for a shot. It was exactly what Gabe would have done had he lost a friend in similar circumstances. In simple terms, Gabe put a smile on the face of every person he met. He didn’t know anyone he didn’t consider a friend, and he had a special capacity to make each of us feel special and appreciated when we most needed it.
Gabe’s personality was so engaging and his sense of fun so limitless it was impossible not to love him. Countless people have remarked on Facebook since his passing that they cannot walk into Charlie’s, a place he insisted was not his second home (while many of us saw it as his first), without thinking about the fact that Gabe always greeted them with a smile and a hug and the offer of a shot. It didn’t matter that fireball tasted terrible, or that he knew you didn’t want the shot, it was always offered. And you were always expected to take it!
Beyond his constant willingness to have fun and party harder than anyone around him, Gabe was serious about supporting the community he called home; whether his bar community via serving as a member and coordinator of the Men of Charlie’s, our drag community as a promoter of Miss Gay Phoenix America or people living with HIV/AIDS as a Joshua Tree volunteer.
In truth, there wasn’t a cause that Gabe wouldn’t step up and support if asked – he earned this community’s love and respect day in and day out.
Describing Gabe’s legacy is next to impossible because the depth and breadth of his impact will only truly be recognized with the passing of time, but the words of Tina Turner come to mind for his friends: “My legacy is that I stayed on course … from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me.”
– Nick Ray