By Tyler TerMeer, Cascade AIDS Project, ED
In April of 1984, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that Dr. Robert Gallo and his colleagues at the National Cancer Institute had found a cause for AIDS. This same announcement highlighted the development of a diagnostic blood test to identify the retrovirus and a hope that a vaccine against AIDS would be quickly produced. By years end 7,239 cases of AIDS would have been reported with 5,596 deaths in the United States. It was that same year that Tony Danza and Judith Light first graced our television screens as Tony and Angela on one of the most popular American sitcoms of the mid-to-late 1980s, “Who’s the Boss?”
For those struggling or to young to remember, “Who’s the Boss?” was the story of a former second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals who moved to Brooklyn with his daughter (Alyssa Milano), where he ends up taking a job in upscale Fairfield, Connecticut, as a live-in housekeeper for divorced advertising executive Angela Bower (Judith Light) and her son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro).
So I’m sure you are asking yourselves, why the throwback to 1980s sitcoms and what in the world does it have to do with the HIV!?
Recently, Daniel Pintauro, the actor who played Jonathan Bower on the ’80s show, shared very personal news while on “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” Speaking with host Oprah Winfrey, the former child star, who previously publically came out as s gay man in 1997, revealed he’s been living with HIV for 12 years. In the interview, Daniel stated that he felt like he missed his chance to be a “beacon of light” to other gay people when he first came out, and is now speaking out about the dangers of mixing drugs and sex in an effort to prevent others from contracting the virus. Since that interview, Pintauro has appeared on an episode of “The View,” and revealed that he believes that his virus was contracted through oral sex.
After that disturbing interview on “The View,” I have continued to see people on my newsfeeds on social media sites vilify Danny Pintauro and it concerns me for several important reasons that I have felt compelled to share.
First: Danny has made an incredibly difficult decision to be open about his status. Fear, stigma, and discrimination remain a huge obstacle for people living with this disease. It takes great courage to put yourself out there, especially when you are in the direct light of the media.
Second: Do I believe his claim about how he contracted HIV? It’s complicated. Contraction of the virus in this way is rare and is considered a low-risk mode of transmission, but that is not what really matters here… what matters is the power of our stories. Danny is young in his advocacy, but his lived experience and status still matters. He will find his way as an advocate… it can take time.
Finally, when did we all turn on one another!? If we are ever going to truly turn the tide of this epidemic, it will require a unified front. We all have to speak with passion and be willing to put ourselves out there, to share our stories and those stories of the people we have lost.
Am I happy with the way he was interviewed on “The View”? No, it was an embarrassment and degrading.
Am I upset about how he responded? I wish his response was more grounded in science.
Am I willing to vilify him for not being a more educated advocate? That only hurts our movement.
As I said before, fear, stigma, and discrimination remain a huge obstacle for people living with this disease. It takes great courage to put yourself out there, especially when you are in the direct light of the media.