Living with HIV: 5 Courageous Gay Men Bringing Visibility To The Disease
Article written by Maya Vukovska
In 1984, the US Health and Human Services Secretary announced the discovery of the virus that caused AIDS. She also predicted that a vaccine would be available by 1986. But no vaccine ever came, and by 1995, AIDS was already the number one killer of men ages 25-44 in America. After that year, the mortality rate started to decline due to the introduction of the first protease inhibitors.
45 years after the first officially registered case of AIDS, there is still no cure for HIV infection. According to WHO, there are an estimated 37.7 million people living with HIV. today. Although stigma and discrimination continue to be the major challenge that those people are facing, more and more celebrities choose to step forward and boldly speak about their diagnosis. Many of them are openly gay, and a huge inspiration for the LGBTQ community.
Ryan Ong Palao, a.k.a Ongina
The contestant from Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race became the first reality TV star to come out as HIV-positive. The now 40-year-old Filipino-American drag performer revealed his status in 2009, during that very first season of the popular show. Since then, he has become an avid HIV activist. In an interview in 2017, Palao said that his comin g out was not only a huge relief for him but also an inspiration for others “to live out loud about being HIV positive." Currently, Palao is involved in an amFAR campaign, whose mission is to find a cure for AAIDS by 2030.
Probably the name doesn’t ring a bell to you, but the guy reached fame as a child actor in the ABC sitcom Who’s the Boss? (1984-1992). In 2015, he sat down for an honest talk with Oprah Winfrey, during which he disclosed that after the end of the show, he went through some really difficult times. This resulted in him getting addicted to crystal meth. In 2003, he contracted the virus as a result of unsafe oral sex and that massively added to his personal drama. But being a responsible gay man, he told his future husband he was positive even before they kissed for the first time. Pinaturo hopes that all gay men out there are as open about their diagnosis as he is.
The iconic bass player for the rock band Styx has been living as openly gay and HIV-positive since 2001. He was diagnosed in 1991. In the beginning, he refused to take any medication. But by the end of the decade, he was already so sick that he had no other choice but take 23 pills a day in order to stay alive. Back then, Panozzo was in a very dark place, both physically and psychologically. At some point, however, he realized that he could not go on living a life of a sick closeted gay man anymore. Fortunately, he succeeded to get himself healthy, and at the age of 73, he is still touring with the band.
Panozzo’s wish is to be seen as a role model by the younger LGBTQ community.
After spending 14 intense years in the closet, our beloved Pose star Billy Porter finally came out as HIV positive last spring in an emotional interview with Тhe Hollywood Reporter. Because misfortunes never come singly, Porter found out about his diagnosis shortly after he was also diagnosed with diabetes, and had gone bankrupt! The actor and fashion icon said he didn’t dare to break the silence earlier because of shame. “I was shamed for my behavior, for my attributes (…) I was told I would never be blessed and that AIDS was God’s punishment for gays.”
What pushed Porter to come clear about his diagnosis was the quarantine lockdown. It made him look inward and confront his shame and fears.
“The truth is healing,” he says. “The only way for the civilization to heal is with the truth.”
We hear you, Billy, we sure do.
He is undoubtedly the greatest American diver and also one of the most famous (and very handsome!) faces of HIV awareness. Gregory Louganis was diagnosed with HIV back in 1988. It was his doctor who encouraged him to continue training for the upcoming Olympics in order to prevent him from falling into depressive episodes. The Doc couldn’t have been more right to recommend such type of “treatment” because as long as Greg had something on the calendar to look forward to, he was able to leave the bed and stay positive. Louganis came out publically in 1995 - a decision that was considered ominously belated by the general public, given that he bled in the pool after a head injury during the 1988 Olympics.
Today, the 61-year-old ex-athlete continues to be an inspiration for all who struggle to beat HIV stigma.