As shows like Pose bring the sobering reality of living with HIV/AIDS back to the forefront, this past Monday was a real life reminder of that time. This past Monday marked 25 years since reality television trailblazer and AIDS educator, Real World San Francisco star Pedro Zamora passed away. The Cuban-born advocate passed away at the age of twenty tour on November 11, 1994 due to complications from AIDS (he had contracted HIV years earlier via unprotected sex). As the first person to ever be featured living with the disease on television, Zamora’s story exposed the public to the reality of living with HIV/AIDS, as well as giving the public the opportunity to watch two men fall in love. His commitment ceremony with partner Sean Sasser was also the first same-sex ceremony in television history. Zamora died just hours after the finale of The Real World: San Francisco aired, making the unapologetic and brave way that he lived his life that much more poignant.
“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,” then-President Bill Clinton said in a speech that he gave 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.”
On Monday, several of Zamora’s former Real World cast members remembered him via social media, with former cast member Judd Winick recalling Zamora’s impact on the American public, as well as the impact he would have had on Winnick and former Real World San Francisco co-star Pam Ling’s children (they met on the reality show and married years later).
Rachel Campos-Duffy also recalled her former co-star in her own way. Duffy, the wife of former Republican Congressman (and Trump surrogate) Sean Duffy and current Fox News contributor also recognized the anniversary of Zamora’s passing on her Instagram page. Rather than let the message be solely about Zamora and the impact on both her own life and the country as a whole, Campos-Duffy’s message (and corresponding hashtags) was sprinkled with mentions of tolerance going “both ways” and “free speech”.
.@RealWorldMTV changed many lives -including mine. #PedroZamora died 25 yrs ago today, but his impact lives on. I miss Pedro & the days when MTV respected young people enough to make shows like the Real World, San Francisco. #FreeSpeech #TrueToleranceGoesBothWays pic.twitter.com/mXyonjeCEI
— Rachel Campos-Duffy (@RCamposDuffy) November 12, 2019
To so many of us (myself included) Pedro was the much needed reflection in the television of ourselves that we needed to see. A representation of the gay man in America living openly and honestly, that many of us (myself included) were still struggling with during a much less accepting time in our country. While Pedro’s light may have dimmed, his beyond bright message and impact on our community and country continues to reverberate, decades later.