The National LGBTQ Wall of Honor is a memorial wall created as part of the Stonewall National Monument. Fifty inaugural LGBTQ “pioneers, trailblazers and heroes” were inducted into the Wall of Honor as part of this year’s Stonewall 50 festivities. The youngest of these was Pedro Pablo Zamora (Feb. 29, 1972-Nov. 11, 1994), a Cuban-American AIDS activist, educator and, most famously, reality television star. Though he was only 22 when he passed away 25 years ago, Zamora did more for AIDS education and LGBTQ rights than most people who enjoyed much longer lives.
Zamora was a cast member of the MTV reality show “The Real World: San Francisco,” which was televised between June and November of 1994. By that time Zamora already had years of experience as an AIDS educator, working with minorities and young people. His appearance on “The Real World” only expanded his outreach. MTV, which already broke barriers during the first two seasons of “The Real World,” broke a few more when it hired a cast member who was not only gay, but also a minority member and a Person Living With AIDS. The show’s mostly youthful audience became acquainted with a man their age who, though living with the consequences of HIV, enjoyed a productive life. Zamora’s onscreen relationship with Sean Sasser culminated in a commitment ceremony between the two men, another television first. Sadly, Zamora’s health declined while he was filming “The Real World” and he died on Nov. 11, 1994, only hours after the last episode was aired.
Pedro Zamora was born on the outskirts of Havana on Leap Year Day, 1972. In 1980 the eight-year-old Zamora and his family fled Cuba during the Mariel Boat Lift. His beloved mother Zoraida died of skin cancer when Pedro was just 13. He coped with his grief by excelling in school; he was an honor student and president of the science club. Though he was openly gay at an early age, the young Zamora was uneducated about safe sex and AIDS prevention. Zamora tested positive for HIV when he was just 17. Graduating from high school (1990) Zamora joined Miami’s Body Positive center and soon became a full-time AIDS educator. His AIDS work took him around the world, appearing before the United States Congress, at international AIDS conferences and on the Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey television shows. “If you want to reach me as a young man, especially a young gay man of color, then you need to give me information in a language and vocabulary I can understand and relate to,” he said. Learning that MTV was casting an HIV positive person for the 1994 season of “The Real World,” Zamora auditioned, winning the part out of 25,000 applicants.
After his death, Zamora was honored for his work educating people, on TV and elsewhere, about AIDS and LGBTQ issues. Zamora was praised by folks in all walks of life, including then-President Bill Clinton: “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,” Clinton said. “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. The challenge to each of us is to do something about it and to continue Pedro’s fight.” Though the lives of LGBTQ people and People Living With AIDS have improved over the past quarter of a century, the fight is not over. Pedro Zamora’s life and death only encourages us to go on.