Security! What image pops up when you hear that word? Is it Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Is it the steely eyed Secret Service officer with the dark sunglasses speaking into a communications device? Our Portrait this week makes his career in the security industry, but luckily he’s neither of those stereotypes. Edward Aponte Luiggi is an affable guy with an easy laugh who oversees security at a number of our favorite venues around the city. The man is trained in everything from active shooter preparedness to hospitality. He sees the first line of duty for him and his staff as servants for the public, dedicated not only to our safety, but to make life a little easier for everyone.
I understand that you’re originally from NY.
I was actually born in Philadelphia but I grew up in Brooklyn and most of my life was spent there. It’s so different in terms of the hustle and bustle that you get in NY, that constant fast moving pace where it seems everyone is after the same goal. There’s a lot of competition. Philadelphia allows me to take a step back and look after myself instead of chasing after the same things as everyone else. I can focus on my own dreams and ambitions.
What’s the New Yorkiest thing about you?
New York is a center of arts and culture and I consider myself an artist. I spent a lot of time going to cultural events and open mics at night. I’m a spoken word artist and NY has a lot of cool underground clubs and events for that. They have them here too but it was more prevalent in NY.
I’m learning new things about you. What was your first performance piece about?
It was about judging people, sometimes people look at you and think that you’ve had it easy just because of the way you look but you never know what hardships people are going through. Don’t pass judgment, good or bad, until you know someone’s whole story. A lot of my poetry as a teenager came from anger but it was just raw emotion from not being able to be true to myself. Once I came out to my mom, things were so much easier. It’s so much better than closing people out.
I see that you use three names, tell me a little about that.
Yes, I have two last names. Aponte is my mother’s last name and the Luiggi is from my father. My mom is a mixture of Spanish and German, Irish, and Italian. And as you might guess with a name like Luiggi, my father is mostly Italian with a little bit of Polish.
Did you get teased when Mario Brother’s got popular?
Oh yeah, I’d get, “Hey Mario!” all the time.
Who’s in the fam?
Myself, and my mother who is my rock. She’s always supported me in anything I’ve ever done. My birth father and two brothers. They separated when I was young and I don’t have much of a relationship with the birth father. I consider my stepfather, who’s been there since I was 2, as my dad. When I came out as 16, my birth father said to me, “Now I know what I have to be ashamed of as a father. You’ll never be my son.” He said he disowned me.
Yeah. I still remember those words to this day. It kind of scars you, to know that your blood, your family, the person that brought you into this world would look down on you and not accept you for being the person that you are. Luckily I already had a mom and dad who have been supportive from day one and two fabulous brothers.
How did you come out?
I was 16 and I was at my birth father’s house. He was always overprotective, you’d have to leave your phone downstairs when you went to bed, etc. I guess he took my phone and started looking through it and saw a text message between me and another guy. He woke me up in the middle of the night and the situation escalated from there. I tried denying it at first and made up a story to explain it and then decided, no, I’m tired of hiding who I am. I told him, you can accept me as I am or I can leave. Words were said and it got to the point that his mother, my grandmother, came over. Then she said, “Why are you like this? Why can’t you be the son that your father wants?” I called my mom and told her the whole situation and said, “Mom, this is who I am.” The next day when I went home she said, “You don’t need to explain anything to me, You’re my son and I love you and quite honestly, I always knew. Mother’s instinct.”
It’s funny, after he disowned me, my birth father later on had another son with the woman he married after my mother. I got a text from him a year ago and said, “Eddie, I wanted to let you know that I am who I am because of who you are.” He came out to my father and told him that he always felt he was born in the wrong body. He’s only 10 years old and it taught me that being open about myself was important not just for me, but for people like my brother and others who might see me. Especially in a field like the security industry where they don’t expect to find a gay guy. But representation matters in all fields and we are everywhere.
Powerful. We never know who we are going to influence. When did you know?
I played baseball a large portion of my life, starting with T-Ball and for the next 16 years. I remember being in the locker rooms and thinking, “Ah! I’m getting strange feelings!” At the time, I was still figuring out what it meant. As I got to middle and high school I had a girlfriend and it just wasn’t working.
Who was your first same sex kiss?
It was with my best friend, we played sports together, we hung out together all the time, but I never said anything to him and he never said anything to me until it became really apparent that we had feelings for each other. It lasted through high school and we’re still in touch to this day.
Did you go on to college or straight into working?
I had a full scholarship to Robert Morris University and a few other schools but I decided to have a gap year. My mother told me that it was a mistake and she was right. I had every intention of going back but then you get a job and an apartment and then you have to keep working to pay the bills and next thing you know, the years have slipped away. It’s one of my biggest regrets, but I’ve taken several courses and I plan to go back someday and get my bachelor’s degree.
Where were you working?
Well, I started out in fast-food as the assistant manager at Wendy’s and then soon moved into retail management at H&M. I was the Assistant Manager of the Times Square store, and it was a huge store. We were open until 2am!
Yeah, and we’d have people shopping at that hour too! I was living in the Bronx with my partner at the time. He died and I moved to Philly shortly after he passed. I loved H&M, but I’m the kind of person who needs variety. I don’t like punching the clock and doing the same thing every day.
Did working at H&M help you become a fashionista?
In a way yeah. At the time I was still trying to figure myself out. I was a bit androgynous, some days I’d rock some heels with tight pants, another day Ieather jeans and a big puffy wig and some days I’d look like your “Average straight guy.” I also used to do drag.
Well, your new job is anything but a drag, tell me about it.
I’m the operations manager for a large security company, Imperial Events Security Services. We exclusively do events (as opposed to corporate or industrial), things like the Flower Show, we’re at Penn’s landing, we handle the Kimmel Center, and we do about 90% of the trade shows at the convention center. It’s a woman owned company and it’s really enjoyable because it’s different all the time. And I’ve met so many people who have become friends over the years.
Do you think working at a female owned company makes a difference, especially in a field that seems very macho? Does it change the way you deal with hotheads?
It does make a difference. I work with an owner who is very in tune with the day to day operations. She deals with a lot of misogyny, she’ll go to a meeting and be there with potential clients and they’ll tell her, “Okay, have the owner reach out to us.” And she’ll hand them a card and say, “That would be me.” But yes, I think she brings a motherly touch which helps. As for dealing with people, we tell our staff that yes we are security, but we are 98% customer service. You’re often the first person that a visitor comes into contact with and you set the tone for their experience. We interact with people from all over the world and you don’t know what that person’s been through. Being a kind human being can make all the difference in someone’s day. It’s important to be patient even when the 15th person asks you where the Rocky statue is. That’s how I try to train people.
Do you recall a time when your kindness made a difference?
Yes, I had a woman who got to one of the trade shows and she was really flustered. I saw her in the hallway with her head in her hands and I went up to ask if there was anything I could do for her. She told me that her flight had been delayed, making her late to the convention center, the hotel had somehow messed up her reservations and she was told she didn’t have a room, then she was having trouble checking in at the show, it was just a really bad day that was getting worse. I was able to get a hold of the show manager who was able to help her, then I linked her up with a friend of mine who worked at the hotel and they were able to locate her room. At the end of the week she saw me and gave me a big hug and said, “I just wanted you to know that I know you didn’t have to do what you did, but it mattered. People being kind matters and makes all the difference.” Especially in this time that we’re in now, the little things do matter. I tell my people, something even as simple as getting someone some water could make a difference, you never know.
Tell me about your lovely partner Lea Aponte who was featured in this column two years ago.
Yes, my partner for life. We’re not officially married yet, but we consider ourselves married. Moving here from NY after my partner passed, I was in one of the darkest periods in my life. He died of a drug overdose and it was hard. Feeling that you know someone and realizing that you didn’t know all of the aspects of their life and struggles. I tried to get through my grief in ways that weren’t always healthy until I moved to Philadelphia and met Lea. I knew from the first day that there was something special about that person. To this day she’s my biggest cheerleader and knows how to bring me up when the things going on in the world get me down.
When I interviewed Lea, she told us that you bought her her first bra and a pair of heels when she was transitioning.
Yes! When we met I could tell that something was going on and when she told me I said, “Be you and do what’s going to make you feel happy. I love you for who you are.” And now she is the amazing, loving, beautiful, queen that you know!
That she is. Do either you or Lea talk in your sleep?
[Laughing] Apparently I do! And I’m known to sometimes spill secrets in my sleep!
Okay, no CIA work for you. Most unusual possession?
I don’t know about unusual, but I collect crystals. I love them. I keep them right at my bedside.
Favorite celebrity encounter?
We were working an event at the Cherry Street Pier and we were told that CeeLo Green was going to do a popup appearance. He was just going to come, take a few pictures and leave. Then the day before we were told by the producer that CeeLo wanted to DJ at the event for an hour. Then we got a call, “He wants to perform for an hour and a half.” Holy shit! That changes the security plans again, so we figure out a new route in and out and we’re good to go. Then during the show he decided that he wanted to go out into the crowd while he was singing his big “F You” song, so it’s just 6 of us and a crowd of about 2,000 people, it was wild but fun. I loved how organic it all was. Of course as security I was freaking out, but to see how much the crowd loved it, was one of the most enjoyable experiences on the job.
What is your zodiac sign and is it accurate?
Lea and I have the same birthday, we’re both scorpios. I feel like I have many of the traits. We can be brutally honest but I’m also compassionate. I have that soft side of me that Lea says is like a Teddy bear!
If you could bring anyone back for 15 minutes, who would it be?
My uncle Paul. He was one of my best friends when I was young. He passed away from Ewing sarcoma that was misdiagnosed. I’d love to talk to him again.
What do you think is the importance of being an openly gay man in your field?
It’s very important. I think it really is important to stay true to who we are as a community and to continue fighting the fight that we do. Listening to the stories that I heard at the recent Stonewall Awards brunch was emotional, but also inspiring. I struggled at first but once I came out I said, “I’m going to be me, and I’m going to be me for the people who feel that they can’t be themselves. It truly reminded me how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. It reminded me that our fight is not over and my generation must continue the fight so we can make it a little easier on the next generation, like the generation that preceded ours did for us.