“I wish I could say that I chose this time to speak out, except, I feel that it’s this time we are in that chose me,” Good Morning America producer and journalist Tony Morrison recently wrote. “During the pandemic, with nowhere else to look but the mirror, I found the courage to face myself and the fortitude to live honestly and openly.”
In a deeply personal and moving essay published on GMA’s website in August, Morrison recounts an eight-year journey beginning with a positive HIV diagnosis at 24. He then describes the years of darkness that followed and explains how our current global COVID crisis was, ironically, what led him to finally free himself from HIV stigma once and for all.
Upon meeting Morrison, or even seeing his pics on Instagram, it’s hard to believe the now two-time Emmy-winning 32-year-old has lived through such difficult times, considering his charismatic smile and a personality that seems to radiate positivity. But sadly, trauma came early in Morrison’s life, as he explains he lost not one but two father figures early in life.
“I was actually born in the Philippines — I’m half Filipino, half Indian…and my birth father passed away when I was very young, like one or two years old,” he recalls. “My mother remarried an American and we eventually moved to the U.S., to Florida…. I became naturalized in seventh grade.”
Morrison says that after a long bout with illness, his stepfather eventually passed away too. “So that’s like, [my] foundation of trauma,” he says, “especially for my birth father, I didn’t really get to know him.”
Morrison says he got his first job at Disney World, “of course,” and went to college in Tampa. After not quite finding his footing in business school, Morrison says he “got into photography, moved to New York for fashion photography…and then realized Fashion Week was only two weeks out of the year, and I really needed an actual job.”
Tony Morrison with GMA meteorologist Ginger Zee and co-anchor Amy Robach
From there, he “fell into TV” and news production and worked at CNN for a while, and has now been with ABC News and the GMA team for six years. However, in the midst of all that career growth in the Big Apple (no small feat!), Morrison was grappling with a painful secret — he was living with HIV and silently suffering the debilitating effects of stigma.
“I have been living with HIV for eight years,” reads the opening words of Morrison’s essay. “It has taken me eight years and a global pandemic to be able to articulate those words confidently and put to paper.”
“Not a day has gone by that I didn’t feel shame, fear, guilt and often, anguish,” he continued. “And I have lived every single one of those days carrying a weight of humiliation, because that’s what society told me I should feel; that’s what our society told me I deserved. And I know that’s what society has probably whispered to you too, about people like me.”
Morrison also explained in the essay that after his diagnosis he became very depressed and “convinced myself I could never be worthy of love…. For eight years, I dealt with my diagnosis in hiding and I grieved in silence.”
A turning point he says happened when a caring health care professional explained the concept of U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) to him: “I finally landed in the care of a doctor who I will never forget. She was kind and patient and was the first to assure me that my life had only just begun…. Most of all, she told me that I wasn’t alone.”
Fast forward to 2021. Morrison says that in a much quieter, post-pandemic world, he could no longer avoid the demons he’d been running from. He decided it was time to face them head on.
“It was a few layers of things,” he says now of the decision to come out as living with HIV. “But the main thing was, you know, this time during COVID, a time of self-reflection, of solitude, of just being alone, I discovered I really liked that alone time… It gave me the opportunity to really finally connect with myself in a way that I really did not take the time to, up until now. And really, it was an offer to deal with this part of my life.”
“And that compiled with the environment of loss,” he continues. “Just the overall COVID loss and loss in general, loss in my life, burying two dads, you know, thinking about all those things. I arrived at the thought that it was really unfair for me to live a life of shame and regret and apprehension when so many [who died during the early days of the epidemic] didn’t get the chance to. And that really weighed on me…. So it was like, Get your ass into gear. You’ve built a really great life and you’ve done nothing wrong.”
Morrison says that not only did he realize, “I should share my story, but as a journalist and a producer, I really thought it would be a disservice to not do it in the way that I did, given the mediums that I command and report on…. I’ve set up LGBT communities internally…and help with their inclusive storytelling here [at ABC] — but I sort of at times felt like a fraud because I was telling these stories but not my own.”
Despite the freedom and support he now feels in opening up about his HIV status, Morrison advises others to not feel pressure to come out — whether it be as LGBTQ+ or as living with HIV — and only to do so if and when it feels right and safe for them.
“I would say, let life take you on that journey,” he says. “Let the time choose you versus you choosing that time. That’s what happened for me…. I put this off for so long. And I don’t think I would have had the tools mentally, physically, emotionally to do all this until now, in a weird kind of screwed up way, I guess.”
These days Morrison says he’s looking forward to continuing to build a future in the world of TV and film, and is enjoying his newfound role as an advocate for others living with HIV.
“I was out at dinner the other night and someone came up to me and asked if I was Tony from Instagram,” Morrison recalls. “They have been wanting to come out to their mom and said reading my story helped them. And was I was like, That’s cool. So in moments like that, I know that sharing my story in such a way was more than the right thing to do. And [it] just opens so many other doors for other people, when we’re able to have these kinds of conversations and normalize these kinds of conversations about our own personal stories, whatever they might be.”