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+TALK

+TALK: TONY MORRISON

Find out why ABC News producer, Tony Morrison, decided to reveal his HIV status to the world.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and ABC News Producer, Tony Morrison

KARL

Why this “GMA” producer decided to reveal his status now.

Welcome to “Plus+TALK” on Plus Life, where we’re all about turning positive into a plus, and today my guest is not only a friend, but a colleague, and I think fair to say, a sort of new HIV stigma warrior, advocate, recently come out of the shadows and joined us in the sunshine. Tony Morrison, good to see you, my friend.

TONY
Karl, it’s good to be with you. We are definitely turning a positive into a plus here these days.

KARL
We are. And I wanna talk mostly today about your decision to come out publicly. You, like me, work in media, and you work for a big media group. We both work for the Disney company, and you’ve got a great job there, at “GMA”, as well as for Disney, you do a whole lotta things. So you’re both on-camera and behind the camera, much like myself. I know all too well the anxiety, and I know personally, ’cause we’ve talked about it. What was it? What made the moment right? How did you know? Because I think there’s so many people that go, “I’d like to be able to talk about it, “but I just don’t know how and I’m scared,” and all of that. So what clicked, that made you go, today’s the day?

TONY
Yeah, well this was, 2021 marked the eighth anniversary of my diagnosis, and this all really stemmed, in 2020, when we were all secluded, that year of isolation, and for me, that time of self-reflection, and really, what it was, this environment of loss that we were in, that loss of our daily routines, loss of our communities, loss of actual life, with COVID, and all things considered, and all these layers combined for me. And as you pointed out, we’re storytellers. We work in news or journalists for producers. I felt that I was doing all this work, telling authentic stories, being a little inauthentic myself, pouring myself into those stories. And then, all these layers together really brought me to the idea of how unfair it was for me to live with this level of shame and fear and hesitation to live, when I was granted not only life, but a second chance at it. So that’s where a few things all layered together, but that’s kind of where we ended up, from last year, into where we are today.

KARL
What were your biggest fears in sharing this truth publicly with so many people, with your family, and from those, did any of them come true, or was it the opposite?

TONY
It was totally the opposite, and I will tell you that I have heard from probably every single person I have ever met in life, and I am getting DMs from places I didn’t even know you could get DMs from. And you can’t quite expect a response like that, putting out my story like this, in a very public way. Nail on the head. As you mentioned, it was a very fearful thing to do. The hesitation was, how can I share my status with people who don’t understand what this life is or don’t understand what the science of today is? Because that’s what kept in in this box. So that’s part of the story, also, and how my essay was structured was, I’m coming out front, but you are all coming with me, in terms of learning what my life was, what life is like for people like us, and you’re gonna get educated, too, because we’ve come a long ways. And it was, and is, unfair that we’re so focused on the trauma of HIV and AIDS, and less focused on the life we are living, as people living with HIV.

KARL
I love one of the things you said in your essay, is that, as a community, and I think especially in the LGBTQ+ community, we memorialize, we hold up and we honor all these people that we lost during this battle with HIV/AIDS, and we talk about them, we have websites and Instagram feeds dedicated to these wonderful stories and how wonderful they were. And yet, for those of us living, we are, we’re stigmatized and we’re treated terribly, both by ourselves and our internal stigma, but also from those in our community who are busy going, “Well, Ted was such a wonderful man “and we loved him and it’s such a shame he died of AIDS,” and then the next day they go, “I’m sorry, not into that. “Are you clean?” Me be, you too, whatever that’s saying, is on the Grindr and everything else. I thought that was a really wonderful observation. Now that you’re out of that closet, how do you feel?

TONY
I thought it would be this overnight switch, like my life would be so different the next day, but I’m finding that it’s more like a dimmer and that there are steps to take, and that there are levels of relearning how I think and talk about myself and how I present myself to other people, how the level of confidence I carry about myself on the simple things, as talking to someone that interests you at a bar, there are little things that are taken away from you by stigma and misinformation that you don’t realize were taken from you until you shed light on it. And especially in the way I think that I did. And your point on memorializing those who have died from HIV and AIDS, but stigmatizing those of us who live with it, that really came, for me, a lot out of the dating experience, which was so tumultuous. I think that there’s such an arc there, when I first was diagnosed, that a lot of what I wrote in the essay was very much a constant cadence. And now, here, eight years later, even before I started writing, I saw a little bit of a turn in how people were thinking and reacting. But there’s so much there.

KARL
It’s a constant work in progress. You know my story. I spoke publicly three years ago about my HIV status, but the level of internalized sigma for the ten years that I’d kind of kept my mouth shut is gonna take a very long time to undo. To your point there, it’s not an overnight switch. It is a dimmer, and sometimes the lights go up, sometimes they can go down, and you’re trying to figure it out. What would you say to somebody who watches this now and is much like you were when you and I first spoke about your status, and was like, “I just don’t think I can. “I’m not ready.” What do you say to that person?

TONY
You and I have talk a lot about, in the last few years, a lot about this right time sort of connotation, and I think what it comes down to, in my personal experience, it was really about letting the opportunity find me and less about focusing on a right time, per se. But I would say to those who are struggling in anything, in this space, or any version of their coming out, I would say to let the opportunity find you and be open to the life you’ve been given, and to truly live. Because that’s what we risk missing out on if we don’t.

KARL
Yeah, and look, you’ve done some amazing work. You were recently honored with the GLAAD Media Award for all the work that you do in creating and executive-producing diverse and inclusive programming. What does an award like that mean to you, especially now that I guess there’s an elevated platform for you and you have bravely stood at the front of the line and gone, “Hey, I’m HIV-positive”?

TONY
Well, winning any award is incredibly flattering. Winning an award with your name on it just, it’s hard to articulate the gratitude you have for that. And the GLAAD Award, of which I was a recipient of, was the reporting that we did here at “ABC News” for the FDA policies on blood deferral regulations for gay and bisexual men, and saying that out loud and talking about you now, layered in with my story, it’s so ironic that I’m the recipient of such an award around blood donations of which something, I will never be able to give blood because of this diagnosis. But it was so important for me to tell this story for our community. And I think that, in the midst of writing this essay, that was part of the push for me to tell my own story, because here I am, telling these stories of this antiquated, unfair rule that affects so many people so consequentially, but I’m not able to tell my own story and share that, as well. So those two were really hand-in-hand in delivering that story and mine, and where we are today with everything.

KARL
Yeah, and you couldn’t tell it because of the antiquated, outdated way people still think about HIV. Tony Morrison, not just a friend, not just a colleague, but you are a true inspiration. Thank you for your essay. Thank you for continuing to do all you do. That is gonna do it for this episode of “Plus+Talk”. If you wanna read Tony’s essay, by the way, we’ll put it up on the website, and be sure to follow us across social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia, and of course the website, pluslifemedia.com. Until next time, stay safe, look after each other, wash your hands, wear a mask, do the right thing. See you next time.

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