Luigi Ferrer came out as a bisexual before it was cool to do so – back in the 80s. And since then he’s had his sexuality questioned and dismissed. It’s tough being bi.
“No other sexual orientation has been questioned as much as bisexuality,” Ferrer said.
The out bi activist currently works with Pridelines Youth Services, an LGBT youth organization in Miami, as the director of programs and grants development. He previously worked as executive director of the Body Positive Resource Center, an HIV services organization in Miami, and as vice president of BiNet USA, a large nonprofit organization dedicated to bisexual awareness. Ferrer was also one of thirteen bisexual representatives who attended a meeting at the White House in 2013.
Ferrer grew up in Puerto Rico, attended a conservative college, and studied marine biology.
He attributes his initial activism to his friends. Later he realized that he enjoyed asking and answering questions about his sexual identity.
“The fact that I had very little information as a kid, also influenced me to go down this path of finding out more about my sexuality and how people understood that, how to relate to people,” he said. “I think that was my primary objective.”
Ferrer was born in Puerto Rico, but spent his childhood among various countries. He attended elementary and middle school in Columbia, South Carolina and New Orleans.
“We were one of the few Latino families in South Carolina,” he said. “At that point, my dad was doing his medical residency in orthopedic care.”
In 1969, he went back to Puerto Rico.
“I remember that I understood Spanish because my parents had spoken Spanish to us, but we’d always answer in English,” he said. “So I really didn’t speak Spanish when I went back.”
He went to high school and college in Puerto Rico. After going back to the island though he quickly realized that he didn’t fit in with the culture. For one people treated women differently and he didn’t like it. Looking back now though, he’s not sure whether he felt different because of his queer identity or because he had spent so much time on the U.S. mainland.
“When I got back to Puerto Rico I felt like I really didn’t share a lot of the prejudices that my cohorts in high school did, or the misogyny, that way of relating to women,” he said. “Now, I question myself. How much of that is because I’m queer, and how much of that is because I was brought up in another culture.”
He said he remembers himself being a very late bloomer and looking back he now realizes he confused admiration for lust.
“I didn’t even realize sex existed until I was like 17 or something,” he said.
He began experimenting with sex with women at 18 and at 21 he dated another man.
“I now realize I had crushes on a lot of my male classmates like the captain of the basketball team,” he said. “Back then I sort of thought it was like, ‘I really admire him. I want to be like him,’ but now I realize I really wanted to hold him. That wasn’t something you thought about because it wasn’t in the realm of possibilities.”
In 1989 Ferrer accidentally began his involvement in bisexual advocacy when a woman he was dating brought him to Seattle to see her family. He found out that she planned on going to a bisexual conference with activists from around the country.
“That was my entry to national bisexual organizing,” he said.
Ferrer found that he enjoyed activism, and despite his lack of experience, embraced the field.
“[The conference] was sort of the catalyst,” he said.
Back home in Miami his advocacy really began when he found a local bi group.
“In the back of the New Times, there was a tiny two-line ad for a bisexual support group,” he said. “I remember calling and getting the information and waiting another two months before I showed up.”
Once he did though he never looked back. The sense of community he experienced kept him involved and made him realize his passion for answering questions about himself and others.
“Just having had a support group here in South Florida, sort of a peer group, as young adults trying to understand ourselves and why this duel attraction exists,” he said. “That’s what really got me interested in finding out more about bisexuality.”
He said his experience with marine biology and working with the boy scouts prepared him for his advocacy work and future jobs. He knew how to write grants, an essential task for nonprofits, and organize events. Those skills helped would prove useful to BiNet, which at the time, was a very small organization.
“It was a very small group and we were all about the same age so it was very nice,” he said.
It was soon thereafter Ferrer was elected to the national board of BiNet USA. At the time BiNet was only beginning to come together.
“It was easy for us to integrate into the group and become part of the leadership very quickly,” he said.
Ferrer’s grant writing would also prove useful in getting a job as the executive director of the Body Positive Research Center.
Coming Out Bi
Ferrer came out to his mother during an argument.
“I was going through a divorce, and she was upset so I sort of worded it out,” he said. “After some time, she got better about it. Now she’ll buy Christmas presents for me and [my partner].”
He shocked the rest of his family by revealing his identity on a Spanish television show that led to an entire episode on bisexuality.
“I came out to the rest of my family on El Amigo,” he said.
At the time Ferrer was the executive director of the Body Positive Resource Center, at the time Miami’s second largest gay service organization. He went on the show to chat about LGBT teens.
He found out that a minister would be on the show trying to “fix” them, and the crew wanted somebody to act as a counterpoint to him.
“I just felt like somebody needed to protect those kids,” he said.
When he revealed he was bisexual, the show’s producers were so intrigued they brought him back to do another episode on bisexuality with people from across the country coming in to speak. It was the best rated show of the season.
“I got several rounds of calls from former classmates,” he said. “My mom got calls from all sorts of family members at one point or another asking if she’d seen the show and what she thought.”
After that his mother politely asked him to not do anymore TV shows for a while.
“It was hard on her,” he said.
Ferrer now lives in Miami, Florida, with his partner Art, who he has been with for seven years and also works in advocacy. Ferrer has been working with Pridelines, South Florida’s oldest LGBTQ youth education, support and empowerment organization, as the director of grants and services for over six years.
Trenaine Jones, 27, the marketing outreach coordinator for Pridelines, said Ferrer has always been supportive and sincere when working.
“I gained a lot of knowledge working with him, especially [the importance] of being compassionate to people coming in and getting [HIV] testing,” he said “Making sure they feel safe and supported and that they understand confidentiality is our number one priority.”
Jones said he constantly sees Ferrer going above and beyond in his work, especially when it comes to OutCamp, a weekend camping trip for South Florida Youth.
“He goes the extra mile to make sure we have enough volunteers, that the youth are signing up,” Jones said. “He is the first one always up in the morning to make sure that everything is coordinated, and he’s the last one going to sleep.”
Jones said the youth participants love Ferrer during the trip because he is sincere and always gives people the support they need. Jones said Ferrer has continued to promote a campfire talk where the youth have the opportunity to speak about serious issues in their lives.
“A lot of the time, youth doesn’t get that kind of safe space everywhere,” he said. “They can get [their feelings] out, and it makes them feel more supported.”
Ferrer said he’s happy with his job, but as an advocate, he’d like to try to bring more attention to the needs of bisexual people.
“There is still a lot of ignorance and fear when people come out as bisexual, and I know that to a degree it does bother a lot of people,” he said. “I often hear people talking about the gay, lesbian and transgender community [but] in trying to be inclusive of trans folks, are they forgetting or erasing bisexuality to a certain degree.”
Ferrer encourages people to get involved.
“Find an organization that you like what they’re doing,” he said. “Ask about how the operation runs (in not-for-profits, there are always volunteer opportunities). Do your research online, think about it and just be there and show up. That’s 60 percent of the battle, just getting people to show up.”