Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Unsung Hero's of the LGBTQ Community!

For Imbolc, I had so badly wanted to write this article, but I absorbed so much information on the subject it sort of blew my mind and I needed to take a step back. In honor of Same Sex Marriage, FINELY being fully recognized in the United States, I had long to write something of significance. As the gods would have it, I stumbled upon the forgotten subject of Pedro Zamora and his partner Sean Sasser. These two men have long been forgotten by most of society, mostly because how much society has over come since the 1990s and the hero's who played a huge role in this undertaking this change are sadly being forgotten.

Zamora and Sasser were a young same sex couple in the 1990s, both living with HIV. Zamora had full blown AIDS, was better known for his role in the "Real World" 1994 San Francisco. Zamora choose to be in the spot light as not just a person living HIV but also a homosexual man with the same desires as most people in their early twenties. They later in the show exchanged vows and rings on MTV, making their commitment ceremony the first ever televised in the USA.

As the oldest children born in this century are sixteen years old or younger, few know the world Zamora and Sasser had to over come to bring them the world we are evolving to today. This was a different world most people would recognize, for one, people didn't have phones and computers with them everywhere. Society was very different when it came to the subjects of sexual orientation and HIV. The media was either in the negative towards anything positive towards the gay community or were trying to be neutral to the obvious bigotry. Many people were still uneducated about HIV and the importances of Zamora work was more evident when looking back at this society before he came into the spotlight.

Pedro Zamora was born in Cuba, immigrated to the United States in 1980. His family resided in Miami Florida, where Pedro grew up. He found out he was HIV positive at the age of 17. He claimed it was from a sexual encounter because that was the only thing he did  to expose himself. He had unprotected sex. HIV treatments were still new and the death rate was considered a 100% fatal. Zamora was given a death sentences as it would seem. However Zamora used his diagnosis to push him to graduate high school early and dedicate his life to educate the public about the disease. He also wanted to give a positive face of those living with HIV. He never forgot he had his disease, but he didn't let that define him and was able to have a happy fulfilling life.

Zamora met Sean Sasser before when both were with other partners, but reconnected when Zamora joined the cast of the "Real World" San Francisco. Sasser was 19 years old when he discovered his HIV status, was living in San Francisco and working as a chef. The two men had a publicized relationship challenging societies perspective on so many levels. Not just two men, but individuals with HIV being responsible but sexually active. A concept that most people back then would never consider. The two would talk about their disease and their story at schools and other public events to spread awareness.

Photo courtesy of MTV Real World SF copyright 1994
This very relationship was not only taboo amount the straight audience, but to the gay community as well. Often in the culture of the time, having multiple partners or simply not being in a relationship was considered the norm for the lifestyle. Much of the culture was sort of the anti-traditional life mentality. That often included monogamy. I'm not saying there is anything right or wrong with this lifestyle. Many heterosexuals have followed the same practices, but having been forced into the shadows of mainstream society, a counter culture developed in the gay community. One that went against traditions like monogamy. What Zamora and Sasser were doing by being a relationship, was considered too vanilla for many in the gay community. While many same sex couples flock to alter, not all wanted this life and not all do. Even more daring Zamora and Sasser would flirt with the idea of marriage. Zamora even admitted he wish he could have children at one point to Rachael on the show. However marriage was something they both seem to want, but Zamora feelings towards leaving his family on the East coast was an issue.

When Zamora returned to Miami to briefly visit his family, he gave the impression of them as a very loving and understand family. They were worried about his health. They showered him with love and affection from the moment they saw him. By all accounts they seemed very accepting of him, it was assumed his sexuality was included in that package. While Zamora was in Florida, he ran a fever and had trouble finding a doctor or hospital that would see him. Along with all Zamora covered, the issue  of young people not being able to afford health insurances, especially those with HIV status, was also brought up briefly.

When Zamora returned home to San Francisco, he and his partner became engaged and arranged for a ceremony to exchange vows and rings. There was a small ceremony done on TV on the "Real World" San Francisco and this was the first same sex vow exchange ceremony ever televised in the United States. Although Zamora friend and roommate came to celebrate, Zamora family were noticeably missing. Nothing was said about this, it is assumed they simply couldn't travel across country. At the end of the program, Zamora and Sasser drive off together to start a new life as a couple. Things seemed to be looking up for the two.

Sadly not long after the Real World San Francisco aired the following year, Zamora became very ill and did not recover. He returned to his home in Miami, to be close to his family. Sasser was with him, but was mistreated by Zamora family. They apparently were less accepting about Zamora's sexuality than he led the public to believe. They told Sasser, while Zamora was too sick to physically talk, he no longer needed a lover. Zamora died November 11, 1994 surround by his family, but was not allowed to be with his partner and spouse, Sasser. Sasser was not welcome at his lover's funeral. He left quietly soon after Zamora died in the hospital.

Sasser left the spot light for a while. He eventually opened up his own pastry restaurant in Washington DC in 2012. In time he legally married his partner Michael Kaplan in 2013, but sadly Sasser died August 7th 2013 of  mesothelioma. He was 44 years old. He died having achieved so much in his short life, but without the fame. He was a humble part of the history the LGBTQ community, with much he had helped accomplished in the long struggle of equality and human compassion. Sasser was a man who lived and loved, but also went a step further. He made the decision to dedicate his life unselfishly towards changing the world for the better, even if he didn't get to enjoy it as the generations later on will.
Twitted by Judd Winick

I hope in time we will remember theses two men as the martyr's of love and acceptance they truly were. For they gave up privacy and lived much in the public eye so that others would not feel alone in their struggles. They gave the world a sacrifice through their love, their life and even their death. They helped the older generation move past old time prejudice and raise the new generation with a level of acceptance that transformed the 1990s life as cold and bigoted. There is etiquette and a level of respect that wasn't there in 25 years ago. Theses are truly two lives that didn't live in vain.