In 1994, “Reality TV’ was much more interesting than it is now. MTV’s “Real World: San Francisco” brought a diverse cast of young people into our living rooms each week. Pedro Zamora was one. Pedro, the 22 year old Cuban-American, was an openly gay, HIV positive man; something most of mainstream America had never experienced. By bringing him into our homes on the popular TV show, MTV brought him and the discussion of his life into our lives.
I was 30 years old in 1994 and in my fifth year living in the big city of Denver. In Kansas where I grew up, I only knew a handful of lesbians and gays (not even to mention the BT section of our community) including a brother and sister of mine. In 1994, I was in the heart of the gay community in Denver. We had only lost Amendment 2 in 1992 and the political forces we had mustered to face that hard fought battle had swung back to fighting HIV and AIDS, which was where they belonged. (Amendment 2 was a state constitutional amendment banning gay rights ordinances in local municipalities and the campaign was long fought and hateful, our resources never should have been spent there while there was an epidemic ravaging our community.)
I had already lost one brother to AIDS by 1994 and would loose many more over the next years. I can’t count the number of panels on the AIDS quilt I helped stitch in that time. And yet, even for me, this baby-faced educator and activist on the TV screen made HIV real in different ways. At work, we had a common discussion going on. Instead of just the men I knew, everyone knew Pedro and his fight for health and against ignorance.
Pedro came into our households in 1994 and died Nov. 11, 1994. In this short time, he gave watchers across the country a face with HIV to love and cheer for. By making his life and his love for his partner, Sean, public, he gave us all a door into a life we might not ever see otherwise. Thank you Pedro. And in this 20th anniversary month of his death, perhaps we can each individually and in our communities discuss what HIV and AIDS meant to us then and what it means now. It is no less than he would have asked.