Today in 2SLGBTQI+ history…
Pedro Pablo Zamora was only 22 years old when he died on November 11, 1994, but in his short lifetime he helped shift North Americans’ perspectives on gay people living with HIV and AIDS in the ’90s.
As one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be portrayed in popular media, Zamora brought international attention to HIV/AIDS and a range of other LGBTQ+ issues and prejudices through his appearance on MTV’s uber popular reality television series, The Real World: San Francisco. In fact, the Cuban-born reality star – who died from complications of AIDS after contracting HIV five years earlier through unprotected sex – was the first person openly living with the disease to ever be featured on reality television. His commitment ceremony to his partner, Sean Sasser, which was filmed for the show, was also the first same-sex ceremony in television history.
Before ever stepping foot on the reality show, Zamora had already spent years raising awareness about the illness and advocating about the importance of education and prevention. His newfound fame gave Zamora a platform to reach people worldwide, shattering myths about HIV/AIDS in the process and jolting the general public awake from ignorance and inaction.
“Over the past few years, Pedro became a member of all our families. Now, no one in America can say they’ve never known someone who’s living with AIDS,” said then-US President Bill Clinton in a speech given from the White House at the time.
“Pedro is a role model for all of us. He’s shown the courage and strength to move beyond himself, reaching out to others while struggling with his own illness,” Clinton added. “The challenge to each of us is to do something about it and to continue Pedro’s fight.”
Zamora died just hours after the finale of The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV. It was the third installment of the reality series, and Zamora’s presence on the show would help catapult it into popularity for decades to come.