Scroll To Top
Pride

Anthony Bowens is the future of Pride and a shining example of the power of being out & proud

Anthony Bowens is the future of Pride and a shining example of the power of being out & proud

Anthony Bowens
Sadiel Ruiz

PRIDE’s Grand Marshal opens up about coming out, being embraced by the professional wrestling world, and his hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community.

rachiepants

When you think of professional wrestling, queer acceptance might not be the first thing that comes to mind. In reality, progress towards changing that perception is being made, in large part thanks to PRIDE’s Grand Marshal, Anthony Bowens, and his decision to be out and proud — in and out of the ring.

“I feel extremely welcome. That was actually one of the drawing points of coming to All Elite Wrestling [AEW], back in 2020, when I was trying to choose between two companies,” Bowens recalls to PRIDE. “It was how welcoming the locker room was and how free the performers were, because AEW had the first ever trans woman to win a major national title named Nyla Rose, and they had Sonny Kiss, and both were just walking around being themselves and there was no issues. It was just we're all one big family, it didn't matter who you were. And I thought that was so impressive.”

Bowens says that this spirit of welcoming and acceptance is mirrored by his fellow performers, the management, and, of course, the fans. There was a time when being an out gay wrestler would have been an oxymoron, but the sea change is occurring, and has never been more evident than in a truly stunning moment of solidarity shared by a crowd of wrestling fans. If you’d been at the AEW Dynamite show last June at Chicago's Wintrust Arena, you’d have seen (and heard nothing but) a sold-out crowd erupt into chants of “he’s gay” in support of Bowens.

Anthony Bowens in the ring

Courtesy of Anthony Bowens

“That was an interesting day,” recalls Bowens, remembering that incredible moment. “My form of activism is not so much in your face. I like to be just out and visible and myself every single week, as successfully as possible. In sports, I was never the team leader, but I was always the guy who led by example.”

In this case, however, Bowens wanted to make a real statement. That in mind, when he was approached by fellow wrestler Q.T. Marshall with the idea of making a big statement about his identity in the ring, Bowens was ready to tag in.

Marshall's idea was to have a member of his group, Harley Cameron, flirt with Bowens, only to have him turn her down due to his sexuality. “Her character is supposed to be a little bit more of a ditzy type. She's not the most bright individual, and she comes out, and she flirts with me, and I just go, 'hold it.' And I say that I'm gay,” Bowens recounts. He was fully on board with the plan and was grateful for Marshal coming to him and checking to see if felt respectful to both him and the community. Despite that, Bowens was still shocked by the response the stunt received.

Anthony Bowens

Sadiel Ruiz

“I was expecting like, 'Yay,” Bowens says with a small clap. “But to have the entire arena, give a standing ovation and to start chanting, 'he's gay,’” he recalls, taking a moment to reflect. In the moment, it took a second for what was unfolding to sink in. “I was like, 'What are they saying?'” Bowens looked around and saw that both his mentor, Billy Gunn, and tag partner Max Caster were smiling and jumping around with excitement. “It finally hit me what they were saying and I was like, 'this is insane.' I just got chills,” shares Bowens, pausing to reflect on what this moment would have meant to him when he was younger. “If you would have told closeted college Anthony Bowens, who was crying his eyes out [over] what his life was going to be like if he ever came out; or would he ever have a career? That he would be having his career living his dream standing in the middle of the ring in Chicago, and they're chanting that, that's insane,” he says.

Bowens knows it was just as meaningful for other athletes and fans who can relate to his story and his fears, and he hopes that in his experience they see a way forward, too. “It's a different world and there's people like myself fighting for you,” assures Bowen. “So whenever you're ready, whenever you feel comfortable, there's no pressure, obviously. There is support and positivity out there for you.”

Anthony Bowens with a chainsaw

Dylan Villain

While Bowens is the first to admit that pro wrestling still has a ways to go in terms of its queer acceptance, he can’t help but see positive signs everywhere he looks. “We have shows on the independent [promotions] like Effy's Big Gay Brunch that features all LGBTQ athletes, I think he runs it multiple times a year now; it used to be every WrestleMania weekend. And then also on AEW, I think that at one point one of our shows had I think seven or eight out LGBTQ athletes on the show. That doesn't happen anywhere else. And that certainly didn't happen when I first started,” he says.

It most definitely wasn't the case when Bowens tiptoed out of the closet in 2017, in a YouTube video that he hoped wouldn’t make its way into the wrestling world. At the time, Bowens was just a few months into a relationship with his boyfriend Michael Pavano. The two decided to do “The Laughing Challenge,” and Pavano described Bowens as his boyfriend in the video.

Michael Pavano and Anthony Bowens

@bowens_official/Instagram

Of course, the clip eventually made its way to his friends and fellow wrestlers, but despite it being the moment he most feared, it was met with acceptance. If anything, there was exasperation that he hadn’t come out to them himself. The whole thing proved to be both freeing and a huge relief for the wrestler who spent years fearing that being himself would mark the end of both his career and his dreams.

If anything, being out has allowed Bowens to share who he is authentically in and out of the ring — and lifting the burden of the weight of that secret comes through in his performances. “I go back and look at my old matches prior to coming out and I look at myself. You can clearly see that there is — I don't know what it is — maybe like a wall or something there. You're seeing 60 percent of me,” he admits. Since coming out, Bowens can see the impact of those walls coming down as his charisma and talent are being unleashed. “I would not have that confidence had I not come out,” he considers. “I'd be probably paranoid the whole time that people are going to be finding out, and then I'd still be living this like double life type thing and it just would be a mess.”

Instead, Bowens has the career of his dreams and the kind of love story we all dream about having. He and his partner Pavano began dating in 2016 and the two are still together, frequently sharing sweet moments on social media jointly. Bowens recalls the memory of their first kiss with a grin. The night started out with him at a bonfire with all his friends and their girlfriends. “I'm like, 'This is miserable,'” he recalls, admitting to ducking out to go meet up with Pavano on his birthday. “We hung out and then we just talked all night and then we went back to his place. We talked more and I just remembered we were looking at each other, there was a silence. I just grabbed him. I was like, 'I can't take it anymore.' And that was our first kiss.”

That may have been their first kiss, but it's not their most famous one. Bowens recalled a time when locking lips with Michael became both a moment of Pride and protest. "This was in New York City — where there was probably seven or eight crazy people with you know the pitchforks and the signs like 'You're gonna go to hell!' Michael and I are like, 'You know what, we're gonna make out in front of you," he recalls with a laugh. "So we did that."

Anthony and michael kiss in front of protestors

@bowens_official/Instagram

Today, the only regret Bowens has is wishing he had come out even sooner. “Being able to be myself freely all the time in all spaces has really helped me find my confidence as a performer and also as a person. Because I was a very shy introverted child... and then add being in the closet on top of it. It just puts you in this deep dark void of loneliness, I suppose,” he says.

Along with the personal benefits of being out and proud, Bowens reflects on why Pride feels especially poignant and important today. “With what we have on our horizon, potentially in front of us, there's a lot of things that are in danger,” he warns. “I will just sum this up with one word: vote. Please vote [laughs], vote, vote, vote, vote, vote, and fight back against a lot of this. Fighting back is more important than ever.”

While the moment we’re currently in may feel fragile and even frightening, at the end of the day, Bowens says Pride is still all about hope and positivity. “I think [Pride] just means being happy, being out, being visible, being yourself,” he says, smiling. “That's what I think about: every single year is the ability to be myself every day, among my friends, among my peers, among my family. Spreading queer happiness, spreading queer joy.”

Anthony Bowens

Sadiel Ruiz

The first Pride was a riot, so it should really come as no surprise that someone waving the Pride banner in 2024 is a fighter. While he may not be confrontational outside of the ring, there is one thing Bowers will never give up on, or back down from, and that's the need to stay strong in the face of prejudice and oppression of gay rights. “Keep fighting, never give up, and vote. There's people in every single avenue — entertainment, sports, politics — people are out there fighting for you,” he says to his fans, their loved ones, and anyone they might reach with this message. “So stay positive and keep up the fight.”

Advocate Channel - HuluOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

author avatar

Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.