Sean Sasser, forerunning AIDS activist and former GLAAD employee best known for his relationship and on-screen marriage to Pedro Zamora in the 90s MTV reality show "The Real World," has died at the age of 44. Friends say mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer typically linked to an immune system compromised by AIDS, was the cause of Sasser's death.
Although Sasser only spent one season in the limelight on the cast of "The Real World: San Francisco," his impact on the cultural perception and understanding of HIV is profound. During the 90s when medications could not turn HIV into a manageable disease and cultural bias heavily repressed discussion of HIV or even being gay, Sasser was willing to openly discuss these relevant topics on national television. As a result of publicly acknowledging his identity as an HIV-positive gay man, Sasser reached millions of young MTV watchers.
After his time on "The Real World" and partner Pedro Zamora's tragic death by AIDS-related causes, Sasser continued to advocate for HIV-positive individuals and their allies. At the time of his death Sasser worked as a pastry chef in Washington, D.C.; his life partner, Michael Kaplan, ran the non-profit AIDS United.
"My heart breaks. Another beacon of light in our community is darkened tonight with the passing of AIDS activist Sean Sasser. For many of us, Sean and Pedro Zamora were the first loving committed couple of color we ever knew. We witnessed and shared their love and happiness, but also learned how to mourn the loss of a loved one through Sean's eyes," said GLAAD National Spokesperson, Wilson Cruz. "I had the pleasure of befriending Sean in those years and all I can say is, I'll never forget your kindness, your smile, the joy you brought into every room you stepped into. In your name, Sean, we fight on, and we recommit ourselves to the struggle to end this epidemic, and will never forget. Rest now, my friend."