Interview by Robyn Ochs
Lourdes, please tell us about yourself.
I am 34 years old, a business owner, attorney, mother of two young kids, running enthusiast, woman, bisexual and married 10 years to my loving husband. I am passionate about my national immigration practice serving LGBT immigrants. I am also deeply committed to social justice issues and strive to work, in solidarity, to empower communities that have historically been marginalized: women, Latinos, immigrants and our own LGBT community. My goal is to be a complete and liberated woman and an example for my kids so that they can learn to be who they are, without apologies.
I was born, raised, attended college and law school and married in Puerto Rico. There was a downturn in the Puerto Rican economy, so a year ago I decided to move to Miami and continue my business in Florida.
Where in Puerto Rico did you grow up? How did you come to identify as bi?
I was born and raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico, a small coastal town 20 minutes away from the capital San Juan. I grew up in a middle class, catholic household with my mother, father and brother. My upbringing was very religious, patriarchal and socially conservative, and homophobic and sexist remarks were the norm.
The first time I realized I was bisexual I was 17 years old and still in high school, when I fell in love with a girl. It was a very confusing time because I was very religious, and I still liked boys – a lot. I didn’t know what bisexual was. In Puerto Rico you knew only gay or lesbian. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian but thought I had to identify myself as one, being in a relationship with another girl. When I met and fell in love with my husband during law school, I went back to thinking I was straight.
Two years ago, at 32, I finally realized that I was definitely bisexual. I went through a process of self-discovery and selfacceptance. It was freeing and scary at the same time. I had considered myself straight my whole life, with a “phase” in the middle during my high school and college years, and now suddenly I was not who I thought I was. My identity had changed, how I saw the world changed, how I saw my past, present and future changed. For such a long time I was trying so hard to be one and not the other, that it took over my life. Forcing myself not to be fully me, repressing who I really was, took a huge emotional toll and affected my happiness and my self-esteem.
Thinking back, I can remember feeling attraction to other girls since I was very young, not knowing what it was.
When I was in high school, I was inadvertently outed. My mother found a letter I had written to my girlfriend. She left me a note saying, “I hope to someday understand why God is punishing me this way,” and never talked about it again. I felt so scared and alone!
You were raised Catholic in a deeply religious family. What impact did this have on your coming out? Are you still religious?
My family was very religious, especially my mom. After my father died when I was 14, I started to associate with a very religious catholic youth organization. During my relationship with my girlfriend, I felt like I was doing something wrong, a very terrible sin and I was going to hell. In my mind at the time, that was a very real consequence to what I was doing. But at the same time, I was in love and couldn’t deny my feelings, even though I really tried to. I knew I couldn’t tell anyone around me about my relationship because they wouldn’t understand and would judge me. So I never came out to anyone.
Years later, after coming out to myself, and my husband, I decided to become an activist for the LGBT community of Puerto Rico. I got involved in advocating for LGBT rights, namely equal domestic violence protection for same-sex couples and equal employment discrimination protection for LGBT workers and employees. During that time, the religious majority in PR convened a 250,000-person march on the capital to protest against civil rights for LGBT individuals. I helped organize a counter march, and a few hundred of us marched the same day on the capital to protest against discrimination and to uphold equal rights. That day, I gave a speech about the legal importance and consequences of the laws being considered and about being a bisexual woman, mom and wife. Afterwards, the national Puerto Rican news, astonished and confused by me, asked me if I could be interviewed. And that was how I came out to all my family and friends on primetime news. They could not understand why I was there if I had a husband and a family. I was asked why I was marching, and I calmly said, “I am marching here because I am bisexual and I am a member of the LGBT community.”
Currently, I am not religious at all. I consider myself deeply spiritual and I am raising my kids this way. I want them to have a wide and expansive view of the religions and spiritual beliefs that exist in the world and at the same time I want them to be critical and independent thinkers. I want them to choose their belief system and decide for themselves if they want to belong to an organized religion.
What can you tell us about the experience of being bisexual – or more generally LGBT – in Puerto Rico, and specifically in the area of the country where you lived?
Puerto Rico is a very religious country, mainly catholic and evangelical. Growing up, I perceived a lot of hostility towards gays and lesbians. They were outcasts. I felt I was going to be rejected by my family, friends, church, and school as well as from society. LGBT kids were shunned in school, ridiculed and banished from social circles. The most popular TV shows promulgate and caricature homophobic stereotypes.
Although still seen as negative, presently there is a broader consciousness now about LGBT rights. In terms of the law, some legislation has been enacted but it still leaves much to be desired. There is still very little knowledge about bi and trans issues, even within the LGBT community.
As was evidenced by the huge rally on the capital, there is a huge evangelical movement on the island with a lot of influence in the government. Some places in the capital are more accepting, but outside of the metropolitan area there is much more narrow-mindedness and discrimination. There is practically no acceptance for bisexuals. Many of the biphobic stereotypes still dominate the LGBT community as well as the mainstream. At the LGBT center recently, where I was speaking, I was introduced as an ally, not as a bisexual and member of the community.
It was very important for me to be seen at the rally where I came out, so everyone, including LGBT members, in their homes could see what one example of a bisexual woman looks like and that bisexuals exist, so if a bisexual person were watching they would know they were not alone.
I also participated in several activities celebrating LGBT Awareness Month, women’s rights and others. At each, I was the only visible bisexual. People would ask me what my flag represented; they had never seen it before. A special moment for me was when a girl came up to me and told me she too was bisexual and was so happy to see a bisexual flag and another bisexual person. I told her that she was not alone, that we are many, and that we just have to be seen.
You have since moved to South Florida and are in the process of starting up a bi group there. What inspired you to do this, and what has been your experience so far?
When I got here I decided to start a bi group for many reasons. First of all, I was looking to have a community. I wanted to be around people who understood and shared similar experiences with me. I tried joining LGBT groups or lesbian groups around the area but I always felt out of place and judged as soon as I mentioned I was married to a man. Also, I wanted to form a safe network of support and empowerment. I thought about what I needed when I came out and how I longed to talk to other people who identified as I did, and who had similar experiences, and I wanted to provide that to others. Finally, I wanted to create awareness about bisexual issues and create a safe space for us to exist freely. South Florida did not have much to offer me in terms of support groups and community building, so I started my own space.
My experience so far has been amazing. I am overjoyed when, after a meeting, someone comes up to me and thanks me, saying how accepted and understood they felt. There is always some hesitation when starting something new. I am still finding my voice, growing and accepting, but there is nothing better than freedom and pride.
Are you keeping up with LGBT activism in Puerto Rico? Are you finding a different environment for LGBT people – or specifically for bi folks – in South Florida?
Yes, I am. Right now, in Puerto Rico they are debating on whether to allow same-sex couples to adopt, and there is a case on the Supreme Court for marriage equality. But the religious leaders are still making a hard case against it. We will have to see if legislators will continue to give in to their pressure, or stand up to them like some have started to do.
In South Florida, there is much more awareness and support. Even though there are areas that still have strong religious currents, there are more areas that are very inclusive and accepting. I think this is because in this area there is much more diversity of people from different parts of the world, with different belief systems and people have come to accept each other and appreciate these differences. Also the geographic area is much larger than in Puerto Rico.
The LGBT community here is more out in the open than in Puerto Rico. There are many LGBT business groups, social groups, meet-ups, festivals and gatherings, which are refreshing coming from a place where there were only a handful of these groups. On the other hand, unfortunately, bisexuals have little to no representation in Florida. But I do find that there is some awareness and some willingness to understand and learn. People don’t like to identify as bisexuals in these groups, and I can understand why. It can be really intimidating when everyone around you claims to be gay or lesbian and there is no mention or any recognition of bisexuals.
Any last words?
Growing up in a strict catholic environment, it was quite a climb for me to reach my independence. I had to deal with the biblical teachings that preached for my ruination, a culture that ridiculed and shunned people like me, and a family that did not understand or accept me. This was something that I struggled with all my life. But all of these experiences have taught me that no one can define me but myself. This applies to all of us. We cannot cede this power to anyone: church, family or friends, even the communities we wish we belonged to. We must look within ourselves to find ourselves. Then we can truly know where we need to be.