When professional wrestler Anthony Bowens and his boyfriend, YouTube star Michael Pavano, came across a homophobic group of protesters recently, they decided to kiss the hate away in a very public lip-lock right on the spot. And while the anti-LGBTQ+ protestors stood aghast as Bowens and Pavano kissed proudly and unafraid, the lovely pair received a tsunami of support for their brave act in the face of bigotry when they posted a pic of the event to social media.
"Standup against hate," Bowens wrote to Instagram, tagging both his boyfriend Pavano as well as GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign in the post.
Bowens publicly came out as bisexual in 2017, but now identifies as gay. He spoke to Sports Illustrated in 2019 about the importance of his role in the sport representing and affirming the LGBTQ+ community.
"It means something when a person can see someone that looks like them, gets them, and understands what they're going through," Bowens, 30, told SI. "I'm representing the LGBT community and athletes that are LGBT, but even more than that, too. I'm representing the small-town kid who was told he'd never make it, and I'm here for the shy kid that is ready to burst out of his shell and be that social butterfly."
"I'm trying to represent all of these people in the most positive way I can," Bowens continued. "I get messages from people that make me cry. To know that I'm having a positive impact on people is a blessing, and makes me feel that I made the right decision to come out."
A native of Nutley, New Jersey, Bowens clearly had the type of impact he was hoping for on young and closeted wrestling fans. One fan named WWFMike said he "started watching wrestling as a teen" and added that it "wasn't always easy being a gay fan," but that he was happy "today's fans have someone like you" as an out and visible role model for the community.
Bowens wrestles for All Elite Wrestling, generally considered the second-largest wrestling promoter in the country after WWE. AEW produces three weekly programs on TNT: AEW Rampage, AEW Dark, and AEW Dark: Elevation. He competes with Max Caster as part of the two-man tag team The Acclaimed. Last year, AEW announced Bowens and Caster had both been signed to a five-year contract with the promoter. Bowens is currently ranked 304 out of 500 wrestlers according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
While his day job requires him to get all sweaty to toss around fellow beefy boys in tiny singlets in front of crowds screaming their approval, Bowens also has a soft side. In 2018, he teamed with a music producer friend to create a song and music video called "How We Met."
"Through the lyrics I tried to convey how much Michael has impacted my life and how he helped heal any pain and dismiss any fears I had prior to coming out and living my life freely," Bowens told OutSportsat the time. "I combined it with the way I felt after the first night we two years ago at a bar called Blackthorn in New Jersey and I how feel now in general. I don't always express how I feel as much as I should, so I did my best to show him how much I love and appreciate him. Based upon his reaction (which I wish I recorded), I think I accomplished just that."
"It was the most beautiful thing. He literally wrote and sang me a song for my birthday. I mean, who does that?" Pavano said of the video, adding the video and song were "the best and most thoughtful gift anyone has gotten me."