Hi, I’m Tony Howell, I’m from Fortville, Indiana. And I came out to my mom in 2005. I came home from school and I said, “Mom, I need to tell you something.”
And she took it relatively okay and our relationship kept going on. Then I graduated from school. I moved to New York on January 1, 2009. Then my mom, I couldn’t get her to come visit. But there was something that’s always been off in our relationship and I really felt like an outsider here in New York City at times. Because I’m just not with the family there. And it really was driven home to me on June 26, 2015, the day that marriage equality passed.
And what really brought this to a very tangible emotion, a tangible feeling to me, was when marriage equality passed, everyone started changing their profile picture on Facebook, including the White House, and then the White House thing lit up, and it was this huge joyous day. But as I kept seeing the world, literally 26 million people changed their profile pictures, it bothered me more and more that not a single one of my family members had done so. So I took action right away, changed my profile picture, I knew that Indiana may not agree so I posted, “I love you, it would mean the world to me if you would join me, or at least support me.”
And then I gave a clickable link to how to change your profile picture. The post got lots of engagement, like 400 likes and all kinds of comments and shares, but again, I kept sitting there at the Internet staring into Facebook Land and saying, “Why isn’t my family changing their profile picture?”
I follow up the next day and I post something. I found an article from Out.com where 26 million people had changed their picture and so I said on Facebook, I said, “26 million and not a single one of my 49 listed family members. Thank you for the support, Facebook family.”
Very, very aggressive post to share on social media, but I really meant it. I really feel like there’s something there of showing your support by taking action. At that time I wasn’t in a relationship but the reason why this affected me so much was that for the first time I was like, wow, I can legally get married and if that happens, will my family be at my wedding, smiling and supporting that? Or is this their sentiment of silence and non-agreement? So I created this whole story in my head that they wouldn’t support gay marriage in my life.
Fast forward and it’s Thanksgiving in 2015 and I’m in an incredible relationship and I tell my sister about it via probably social media and she wrote me an email saying that she doesn’t agree with my relationship based on religious reasons. And so I responded all to the entire family and said, “Someone actually told me their true feelings about this, so I want to address my feelings on this matter for everyone.”
So I sent that email and one of the first people to respond was my mom. It was pretty immediate but the response wasn’t as thoughtful as I had spent 5 days writing. And I did get lots of responses back but it still continued to sort of fester and bother me a little bit in the same way as the Facebook profile pictures.
So fast forward and it’s the spring and I’m at work and my phone rings and it’s my mom. And I’m like, “Hello?”
And she informs me she’s considering coming to New York. No guarantees but she wants to see my new place and meet Michael, my boyfriend. And I was a little surprised and I said, “Sure, what are the dates?”
And I put them in my calendar knowing that it was probably very tentative. But lo and behold, she bought a flight, she called me and told me when she bought her flight. And I helped her get a hotel and everything and it started to be an unreal experience that this was actually happening.
She arrives to New York with my 4th grade teacher, one of her great friends, and it was again sort of unreal that they were in New York City. It’s two different worlds I feel like. And so I helped them get settled into their hotel and pretty immediately we met Michael. We were all a little nervous. We all went to dinner before the theater. Michael was not sure if he was going to spend the whole weekend with us, but we actually spent every single day together.
What I like about that trip and this sort of happy ending is the fact that this story that I had crafted in my head, that my family doesn’t or will never support my relationship, was completely untrue. And just because they’re not changing their picture on Facebook to rainbow flags or flying to New York twice a year doesn’t mean anything. There’s many different factors for all of those things. But yeah, I’m really happy now that I get to share my relationship with my mom, the good and the bad occasionally, and that we can talk really candidly and truthfully on a deeper level now.