Archive for March, 2010
Last fall I was on the cover of Positively Aware magazine. The cover story was about my HIV education campaign supported by Merck called Living Positive by Design. I got an overwhelming response from the article but just this week I was sent a letter that was really moving from someone who was very sick with HIV but read the article and with support from others has restructured his life. It’s a great reminder to all of us who work in the HIV community that we do make a difference. I emailed him and with his permission I an posting the letter–I removed his name. He is only 28. It’s a call for many things–early treatment, universal health care, fighting the stigma of HIV. It also illustrates the need for emotional support. I mean no disrespect to the Catholic religion. I am not Catholic and this is just one persons opinion. To Everyone–We are not in this alone. Sorry if it’s hard to read–multiple photocopies–but its worth it.
Something you may not know about me is that I am a reality show junkie. I watch all kinds of shows, from Survivor and Hell’s Kitchen to Solitary. I find watching everyday people put into stressful situations makes for great television.
I think the first show I was hooked on was MTV’s Real World. Real World was one of the first reality shows. Total strangers agree to live in a house in a specific city all while being filmed. They of course find people from all different walks of life and with different views. It is pure genius. The San Francisco season was the one season that hit home with me. When I first saw Pedro Zamora, I felt an instant connection. He was the first person on television that I could relate to as a gay male. He was open and honest about who he was from the beginning. I remember seeing him and having an overwhelming desire for his bravery. I was just a freshman in high school when the show premiered in June of 1994. I had been wanting to “come out of the closet” so to speak for a long time, but I was still young and wasn’t ready. Pedro opened my eyes and made me realize that who I am is who I am and I needed to accept it in order to move forward and live a productive life.
Pedro was also HIV positive and broke barriers against HIV/AIDS stigma by talking about it openly and honestly on national television. He put a face to the disease, which in return made it more relatable to those watching. If you didn’t know someone who was gay or HIV positive, you did now.
Pedro allowed me to accept who I was as a gay male and move forward with it. By the time I graduated high school, I was ready to come out and admit I was gay. So I did. Seeing his relationship and then marriage to Sean Sasser let me see that one day I could find true love as a gay man. I applaud them both for leading the way and opening the eyes of people across the globe. They are both heroes in my book.
|Robert and Jack Mackenroth.|
In 2007, the next reality show that hit home for me was Project Runway. Project Runway takes 16 talented designers who try to make the cut to present their collections at Fashion Week. During season 4 the world was introduced to Jack Mackenroth [you can also read Jack's This Positive Life interview on TheBody.com]. I wanted to talk about what it was like for me to see Jack on television. When season 4 aired in November of 2007 I had been living with HIV for about 6 years already. It was about the same time I came to the conclusion I was going to start a blog and share my story about living with HIV/AIDS. I remember Jack coming on television and saying he was HIV positive. It instantly sent me right back to the day I first saw Pedro Zamora. But this time it was different — I could also relate to his HIV status. I found Jack even more relatable since he was also an athlete like me. I remember saying to myself: “Wow this guy is so brave and has the confidence I was looking to find within myself.”
I took Jack’s appearance on Project Runway as a sign for me to continue in the way of activism. It was only a month later that I launched the POZIAM Network and came out as a person living with HIV/AIDS publicly. I remember when the season was over I decided to reach out to Jack through his website. I wanted to ask about placing a link to my network on his website. I thought it was a shot in the dark. I was surprised when Jack personally wrote me back and said yes he would add a link. I remember being so excited and jumping up and down with joy that I just got an email from Mr. Jack Mackenroth.
In February of 2009 I invited Jack to be a guest on POZIAM Radio. He accepted (you can listen to the interview. In April of 2009 Jack saw I was looking for a second co-host and asked if he could help. I of course said yes and the rest is history.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jack for the first time this past October. He was in Philadelphia speaking for the Philly AIDS Walk on behalf of his Living Positive by Design campaign. I am blessed today to call Jack a friend and fellow warrior in this fight.
|Robert and Ongina.|
Then later in 2009 came Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race and the introduction of Ongina. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competition that pits drag queen against drag queen. At times they have to lip sync for their lives in order to be crowned the next Drag Superstar. I myself have never done drag before. I find the transformation of a man into a woman fascinating. I knew when I first heard about this show I would be a fan.
I remember watching Ongina during the MAC Viva Glam challenge. Her slogan was “Life is a celebration”. Then at the end of that episode when they announced Ongina won the challenge, she was overwhelmed with emotion. You see, the MAC Viva Glam campaign donates proceeds to help people living with HIV/AIDS. Unknowing to the viewing audience, Ongina then did something she have never imagined she would. Ongina then announced to the world she had been living with HIV for the past two years. This was unplanned and that was what made this so real to many who were watching.
I was so proud of Ongina for sharing her status, especially since her family was unaware of it. Ongina showed others that, as HIV-positive people, we can still live productive lives and accomplish our dreams. That day Ongina touched my heart and the heart of many others and has never stopped.
In April of 2009 after her departure from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ongina came on POZIAM Radio and shared her story.
In October of 2009 I was chosen to appear in one of Logo’s “HIV+ME” episodes that featured Ongina. The “HIV+ME” episodes share personal stories of people living with HIV/AIDS. I was so honored to be chosen and was so excited to meet Ongina. That weekend in October I met both Ongina and Jack Mackenroth in person for the first time. It was a total dream come true!
After the filming and release of the “HIV+ME” episodes I invited Ongina back on my radio show to promote and discuss the project. Below is my “HIV+ME” Segment.
The point of this is blog post is to express how important it is for more HIV-positive people to be cast in reality shows. I myself have tried out a few times for a few different shows and got good reactions from producers, but never made the cut. HIV/AIDS is a reality and the individuals above are proof of that.
I have watched many movies with individuals who were HIV positive or were living with AIDS, but by the end of the movie the individual dies. People still have the movie Philadelphia in their heads when they think of people with HIV/AIDS. People are living longer with HIV/AIDS in 2010 and there needs to be a show or movie that will showcase that to the world. I am working on creating a show to do just that.
In hopes of inspiring,
HIV Advocate to Headline “Masquerade on the Mall”
WASHINGTON – HIV advocate and “Project Runway” alumnus Jack Mackenroth will emcee “Masquerade on the Mall,” Whitman-Walker Clinic’s 17th annual spring gala. The black tie event will be held on Friday, April 23, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW. All proceeds will benefit HIV/AIDS services at Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Jack Mackenroth is a fashion designer, model, actor and swimmer. Passionate about helping people living with HIV stay positive about their lives, Jack has partnered with Merck & Co. on an educational HIV campaign called Living Positive By Design. Through this campaign, Jack is sharing his perspective as someone who has lived with HIV for over 20 years. More information on Living Positive By Design is available at www.LivingPositiveByDesign.com.
“Jack Mackenroth is a great example of someone who is living a full and healthy life with HIV,” said Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Clinic. “His time on ‘Project Runway’ gave America a glimpse into the reality of today’s HIV epidemic: a healthy, vibrant person who must monitor their health carefully and who still faces tremendous challenges. He also became a great role model and advocate for people living with HIV. It’s an honor to have him join us for this event.”
Tickets are available at $1,000, $500 and $350 levels and may be purchased by calling (202) 797-3543 or online at www.wwc.org/gala2010. Donations to HIV/AIDS services at Whitman-Walker Clinic can be made by calling 202-797-3520 or online at www.wwc.org/donate.
Established in 1978, Whitman-Walker Clinic is a non-profit, community-based provider of health care in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Through two sites in the District of Columbia, the Clinic offers primary medical and dental care; mental health and addictions counseling and treatment; HIV education, prevention, and testing; legal services; and medical adherence case management. Whitman-Walker Clinic is committed to meeting the health needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and people living with HIV/AIDS.