In 1994, when it was even more rare to see gay men on television, HIV activist Sean Sasser signed a waiver allowing MTV to broadcast his relationship with Real World cast member Pedro Zamora. It was a brave and ultimately revolutionary act.
"His one brief turn in front of the cameras was enough to make a major impact," wrote former Real World cast member Dan Renzi as news spread this week that Sasser has died. The cause: a lung cancer called mesothelioma that often afflicts people with HIV/AIDS. He was 44.
"Long before Ellen or Will & Grace showcased gay people on TV living mainstream lives, and before the magic of protease inhibitor “cocktails” turned HIV into a manageable disease, Sasser gave a brave face to both issues and brought those taboo topics to educate millions of young Americans."
Readers and viewers will recall that in addition to their then-groundbreaking HIV activism, something that still was pretty niche at the time, Sasser and Zamora were one of the first and more positive representations of same-sex love on television and eventually the men were married on air.
Later, after the Real World wrapped and Pedro Zamora died from his own battle with HIV, Sasser moved to Portland and continued his two passions: being a pastry chef and HIV/AIDS activism. And, yes, Sassar found love again with fellow HIV activist Michael Kaplan. Together the men made it their mission to raise awareness. And Sasser's mission was most certainly accomplished with grace, wit, humor, and humanity.
In this video from 1996, Sasser speaks about Zamora's monumental role in showing people that young people can get HIV/AIDS, too. The same could be said about Sasser himself.