Sean Sasser, HIV/AIDS activistPost submitted by Candace Gringrich, Former Associate Director, Youth and Campus Engagement Program

Sean Sasser, HIV/AIDS activist, passed away August 7 and America has lost a powerful messenger who brought the reality of living with HIV/AIDS to living rooms across the country. He had followed in the footsteps (or maybe filling the shoes) of his boyfriend,  Pedro Zamora of The Real World, San Francisco. It was 1993 and there were very few LGBT characters on television – let alone ones that were HIV positive and out about it. Pedro & Sean were both HIV positive and their relationship was portrayed as they lived it (when reality tv was actually unscripted) and gave many in main stream America a reason to care about the disease – even if they didn’t know someone personally, they knew Pedro and Sean. Pedro passed away in 1994 and Sean continued the work of educating America – keeping a face on HIV and AIDS.
I had the honor and pleasure of working with Sean in our “You’ve Got the Power: Vote” campaign in 1996. It was a star-studded campaign with some big personalities, but Sean wasn’t one of them – I remember him as down to earth, very passionate about his cause and always with a grin that easily turned into a smile. We could use more Seans – to bring visibility to the reality that HIV/AIDS is still a fact of life for many, especially young black men.
The work does continue – the National Minority AIDS Council along with the Magic Johnson Foundation and Advocates for Youth recently launched a youth initiative to end HIV/AIDS. One key part of the initiative is self-empowerment – to take control of one’s own health, in particular to get tested. HRC continues to push Congress to provide the strongest possible federal response to the epidemic through fully-funded prevention, treatment and research programs. HRC fights policies based on ideology, not science, including the funding of abstinence-only education and bans on federal dollars for syringe exchange programs.
Let us honor the life of Sean Sasser – get tested, know your status and continue the educating of America.

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