As our daily news continues to be filled with political chaos and the fight for our rights remains paramount, I thought that for the month of June (and possibly beyond), I would be showcasing some true examples of love, community, and inspiration. Thus, the aptly titled #PrideSeries was born.
First Up: Philadelphia, PA’s own Anthony Berner-Reto (Tony Retro) & Tommy Berner-Reto (Tommy Boom). The City of Brotherly Love is where they call home, and their amazingly diverse community is a huge reason why. Following their unique meeting, they fell in love and took their love affair below the Mason-Dixon line, for a wedding full of authentic “Southern Charm” (cue the “ba ba doo” theme song). I sat down with them once upon their return to Philadelphia to talk about how their love affair kicked off over a few “Words”, what made their wedding so uniquely special, and how they make their relationship work in what can sometimes be a challenging world for couples.
Michael Cook: So take me back; when did you guys meet?
Anthony/Tommy: Well, we have had some mutual friends prior to meeting, however, it wasn’t until the “Words With Friends” App ( I know, crazy !) linked us up to play one another that we began talking. I was basically relentlessly kicking Anthony’s ass over and over again before he finally got a win and messaged me back about his victory to which I responded, “I guess now I owe you a drink”. The rest is really history. We went out the following week and literally never looked back.
Philadelphia is “home base” for you guys. Are you both from there?
T/A: I’m actually Philly born and raised and Anthony is originally from the suburbs.
What makes Philly the community that you have made your life in and why is it so amazing?
T/A: Oh, we love everything about Philadelphia! The city is extremely diverse and a total melting pot of a little bit of everything. From the fact that it’s a walkable/Uber city with everything at your fingertips to the amazing restaurant scene to the grit & the hustle of living downtown. We also have an amazing group of friends whom we have known for over twenty years separately and now get to share in our friendship as a couple. Do we think we will end up exploring other cities to live? Most likely yes, but will we always call Philly home, one hundred percent!
When did you both know the this was full stop, definitely “the one”?
T/A: We both went into this relationship with zero expectations. We were relatively fresh out of other relationships and initially didn’t put much weight into us “dating”. We simply kept asking each other “when is the next time you want to hang out?’ and the answer was always “immediately”! We attempted to take it slowly and play our cards close to the vest, but it was obvious we both were serious about one another, even after only a couple months of dating. Since we were together before Marriage Equality was legal, we both never put an incredible amount of thought into getting married, plus we have always been a “no pressure” couple to begin with.
Once Marriage Equality was legal, it really kind of opened us up to the possibility of “the next step.” We wanted to be thoughtful about taking that next step and didn’t want to necessary just get married because we could. We wanted it to really be the right time and have everything really feel authentic to us as a couple. So around Christmas of 2016, I started planning how I wanted to propose to Anthony. We had a trip scheduled that summer to Athens and Mykonos and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something incredibly special that we would always remember.
Couples always find themselves in a great groove of hopefully finding activities or hobbies together that they both enjoy. What do you guys spend your time doing?
T/A: Well, we are both incredibly into being healthy so as boring as it sounds, anything that gets us out and get us moving. Whether it’s biking or just our daily fitness routine, we are really always incredibly in sync with one another. Obviously traveling has been a huge part of our relationship and will continue to be. We try to break up our year with at least two trips each year with one another. We have Thailand coming up in the end of June and then Palm Island sometime next year along with our semi annual trip to Puerta Vallarta. Over the next two years, I’m eyeballing South Africa and Australia!
What do you find you bicker about the most?
T/A: Again….we are so boring so mostly laundry and dishes (laughs). And honestly, I’d be glad to bicker about those mundane things from now until the end of time. Our core values are virtually the same so we’ve never really had to argue about some less than favorable behaviors or about any sort of mistreatment of the one another. We can, hands down, say that this is the most effortless relationship of my lives.
Your wedding was so unique and had such Southern flair! What was the inspiration for that?
T/A: Well, we really wanted this to feel like “us”. When we started initially planning, we knew we wanted somewhere warm because we both detest the cold. The original thought was to have a bonfire on a beach somewhere, renting a couple of houses and just have a huge bash with all of our friends, but we didn’t really know where. That led us to our wedding planner, Zachary Connor of Zachary Andrew Events (http://www.zacharyandrewevents.com/ )and we began discussing options. That was really where the idea of pairing our love of the architecture that we love with the warmer weather, and we were off to Charleston. We got there and really weren’t loving any of the venues. We kept saying that if we were going to have our friends and family come down there, it really needed to feel like a full Charleston experience and the places we were seeing could have been anywhere really. We had practically called it quits on finding anything there and were getting ready to head back to the airport to fly home and our planner said he had one other place he’d like to show us; that led us to Lowndes Grove Plantation.
Literally as soon as the gates for Lowndes Grove opened and we drove in: the car was completely silent. We both knew right then and there that the bonfire on a beach was out the window. There was one problem: it was a plantation. After much discussion, we decided it better to break down the barriers and create something new that would never have been permitted on the grounds; a gay interracial marriage. Our suits then turned into tuxedos and we started thinking about making turning this wedding into a full on Charleston experience for everyone that we were inviting. So from there we hired Jay Cassario and Eric Talerico from Twisted Oaks Photography and started really planning four days of itinerary for our friends & family to do while they were there. We had everything from the standard rehearsal dinner, to the actual wedding, to a brunch/bowling/ghost tours, before having everyone join us on the Carolina Queen which gave everyone a beautiful perspective of Charleston from the water. We concluded the experience with having everyone “Surf the Rooftops” and basically did a rooftop bar crawl for our final evening there!
Ian Morrison (also known as Brittany Lynn) performed your ceremony. Why was it important to have him be a part of your day in such a profound way?
T/A: Ooooh Brittany Lynn. It was a no brainer actually. We have both known Brittany forever independently and obviously as a couple. Ian knew us through many of our past relationships and saw just how different this one was for the both of us. Besides simply being our friend, Ian has made monumental moves for the LGBTQ Community in Philly and we wanted him to be a part of a monumental day for the two of us. We knew he was going to do an exceptional job but honestly weren’t prepared for just how incredibly emotional and personal his touch was during the ceremony. The perfect balance of humor and thoughtfulness. He called us the week or so before the wedding to get our approval on what he wanted to say and by the time we got off the phone, we were all balling our eyes out. It felt literally so unique, so heartfelt, and most importantly, so us. He also really did an amazing job at really helping to keep nerves calm during the actual ceremony simply just by letting us know to ‘focus on each other” and “breathe”. You don’t realize how important those little words matter but when you’re going through the day, it really helped provide a calm that we needed.
Our community is under such assault right now. Is your life together your own form of advocacy?
T/A: I mean, we are incredibly active and supportive of our trans friends, and obviously of the gay community as a whole as well. So for us, we think being a great representation of a male monogamous couple, is extremely important. We’re both career driven and even though we obviously are two separate people, we operate as a duo and are happiest when we are together. It sounds so corny and not at all realistic, but that’s the truth of it. When we were growing up, we can’t really think of another couple that we could look up to in our own community so even if there is one person who sees us and knows they could have something like this too, it’s huge and something we had to carve out for ourselves. I think that the lack of representation empowered us to want to do this more. To be an example and say our vows publicly amongst friends, family and members of our community, so they know what we stand for as a couple and to hold us accountable for what we have vowed to one another; it simply feels powerful. We vowed to not take this privilege for granted and make it worth what our brothers and sisters have fought so hard for us to have.
You guys just married the loves of your lives. What would you each tell the Tommy and Anthony who were growing up thinking that this could never be a possibility?
T/A: Ahhhh – We would just say that it is possible. You have to do the work though – and really be available to the other person you’re in a relationship with and not ready to thrown in the towel when things may not be going exactly your way. In addition to being crazy in love with one another, we both have done our best on cultivating a true friendship. We are each other’s family and were so even prior to being officially married. We can hands down say that all of the work is definitely worth it when you feel the reward of getting to spend your life with someone you know is your other half. It’s about partnership and giving and taking at the right moments, as hard as it may be. We’re both really excited to see the kids that are growing up today and getting a chance to witness how our community has grown and become empowered to live their absolute best lives completely front and center with our straight counterparts.
Photos Courtesy of Jay Cassario & Eric Talerico, Twisted Oaks Studios (https://www.twistedoaksstudio.com/)
Zachary Conner, Wedding Planner/Designer
*Know anyone that would make a fantastic addition to be featured in the #PrideSeries? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org