Last year, Stephen Morgan and Steven Romo went viral when the then-Houston television news personalities came out as gay in dual Instagram posts announcing their engagement. And since then, the two have become practically inseparable on the app.
"A few years ago, if I had seen us, I would have hated us," Romo, a freelance correspondent and anchor for NBC Universal, tells The Advocate. Romo and Morgan, who is a national meteorologist for Fox Weather, have turned their feeds into a series of adorably sweet photos. "If I wasn't us, I'd hate us."
"But I'm just in love and so happy and, honestly, I don't care what anybody thinks," he adds. And in an environment where Republicans are pushing a "groomer" narrative, these representations of LGBTQ+ people are needed, according to the couple.
Romo, 37, and Morgan, 33, grew up in religious families. Romo lived outside of Dallas and Morgan in Illinois near the Missouri border.
The two worked at rival TV stations in Houston when they met on a story in 2018. For two years they would only trade the occasional like on Instagram, "as one does," Romo chuckles.
But in 2020 they found themselves masked and socially distanced at a table in the only area Starbucks open during the height of the ongoing global pandemic, with beverages in hand and lost in conversation. As Romo describes it, "baristas certainly got a lot to process" as the two shared intimate details about their lives with each other.
Romo grew up carrying a shameful secret that he wrote about in his first personal HuffPost essay in 2019. He wrote of a childhood spent learning to keep secrets while living in a home with a mother suffering from mental health challenges and an un-nurturing father who kept the house, which included eight chihuahuas and an infestation of cockroaches, filthy.
"Squalor!" Romo explains. "Squalor, that's what we live in."
His family began attending church regularly when he was 12. But, he says that while being around other people made his family seem "normal," he simultaneously struggled.
"I also learned that being gay was a sin," he recalls, "according to them at least. And that I would have to change or, I guess, go to hell."
Romo says that isolation led to him raising himself. He stopped going to school in eighth grade but returned off and on until his sophomore year. Then, finally, he says he disenrolled from school altogether to homeschool, but nobody taught him.
He found refuge at the public library in his Dallas suburb. He spent countless hours lost in a world of reading and teaching himself everything he had missed.
His other escapes were Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. Romo was able to imagine a world with relatable characters. There was Seven of Nine, who he says left her family and tried to fit in with her chosen one. Or the J'naii, an alien species that rejected gender as a construct and lived in a post-gender society.
Between television and books, Romo says he discovered a passion for storytelling.
He's proud that he got into community college by passing an entrance exam and eventually transferred to Texas A&M University, where he fell in love with journalism as a profession.
Morgan grew up more fortunate but shared the role faith played.
A graduate of Saint Louis University with a bachelor of science degree in meteorology, Morgan came to terms with his identity into his adulthood.
"As a young boy, I knew there was something different about me, but I grew up in the church, and I did my best to obey my parents," he tellsThe Advocate.
He prayed and fasted over being gay and asked God to make a deal "between the two of us" to fix him. At one point, he came forward to some friends and said he was struggling with "same-sex attraction."
He came out to his parents at 22 to ask for help. However, he says that his sister, who worked with several gay people, proved an ally, telling him stories of people she knew that were not the monsters the LGBTQ+ community had been made out to be.
"While I came out to them in hopes of being fixed, there was almost a courage that I found inside of me actually to speak up," Morgan says.
He says that his family's belief in the tenets of the Assemblies of God church waned and that through open communication (and many questions), his family has come to support him.
"[They] recently found a church in the town we grew up in -- a United Church of Christ. So when Steven and I go home, we'll attend the church," Morgan says.
Romo says Morgan's story touched him.
"It's heartbreaking to hear that he went through something so similar to me, where he was praying every night that God would heal him or cure him."
Because the Stev/phens share some of their lives with loyal social media followers, they like to keep a good amount private but are finally opening up about the story behind their viral engagement.
Romo says that before last June's proposal, the two had taken a trip to Dubai and that he had bought two engagement rings. Because of the emotions of the journey, he wrote about the search in a memoir draft he was working on.
Later, while in New York apartment hunting, Romo asked Morgan to read part of the manuscript.
"He's an incredible writer, and he wanted me to read this piece of it," Morgan says.
All was good until he reached a part that confused him.
"I know memoirs are true to life," Morgan explains. "And I'm like, 'wait a second! This isn't true! This is fiction -- we weren't looking for rings when we were in Dubai!'"
Then, Morgan says, as they walked along the sidewalk at 48th Street and Sixth Avenue, Romo pulled out the rings.
"He didn't get down on one knee or anything," Morgan recalls. "He was like, 'So will you marry me?'"
Morgan says he was so shocked that he caught himself doing something he never thought he'd do.
"I put my hand over my mouth," he says with a lighthearted tone of embarrassment in his voice.
The concept of the gesture having been conveyed, he continued, "I never expected that I would do that -- but I was so surprised! I think the 'yes' was delayed."
Morgan points out that he had the wherewithal to remember to take a selfie -- the now-famous one -- of the moment.
Morgan says that one thing Romo mentioned in his most recent HuffPost essay is universally true.
Romo writes, "Hearing about and learning about LGBTQ+ people at a young age will not spontaneously turn kids queer."
Morgan agrees: "I lived a very hetero experience, and talking about straight couples did absolutely nothing for me. That didn't make me straight as a young kid, teen, or adult. I'm gay, and I have been gay."
Romo wants to be there for LGBTQ+ youth.
"If I can be even a small part of that as just some random news dude, then I'm more than glad to share my story," he says. "Maybe hearing that some random guys who have the same first name, which is confusing, in Houston can meet each other and fall in love just like straight couples do on TV and movies all the time [will help.]"
Morgan agrees it's important for LGBTQ+ youth to see themselves in the media, and says the science of meteorology is very open and he would encourage young people with an interest in climate science to pursue the career.
As for the fix he was seeking for so long, Morgan says he knows one thing:
"God doesn't make mistakes. Maybe some of us have long fingers or crooked toes or are short, or we're tall, but when it comes to who I am, I'm gay," he says.
"And that's just who I am."