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In 1986, Reverend Dr. Steven Pieters found himself exiled in a dark alley next to the AIDS Project Los Angeles office in Hollywood.
He was meant to be shooting a five-member panel discussing the state of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the “330” nightly news show, but production refused to work with Pieters for fear of the risk of transmission.
Pieters didn’t stay down long and became a national spokesperson and rallying figure for AIDS awareness after a legendary live interview with televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. Actors Jessica Chastain and Randy Havens re-enact the famous interview in 2021’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a performance that earned Chastain the Oscar for Best Actress.
As the world grappled with a rise in mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) last year, Pieters joined plenty of other gay men in pushing back against recycled stigmas.
“People are scared of having contact with us because, as far as people know, monkeypox can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, so hugging and kissing is a scary thing to do,” he said. “That contributes to the soiled identity of gay men — even if we don’t have [mpox].”
Pieters, who accepted the Humanitarian Voice Award through the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles in August 2022, used his speech to address how LGBTQ+ communities continued being pushed aside, one epidemic after another.
It was a long journey for Pieters to accept his orientation after the first place as he felt his love for men pitted against his devout Christian faith. It wasn’t until meeting a group of gay pastors from Chicago’s Metropolitan Community Church that he felt he found his home.
“That’s when I knew God loved me,” he said.
When HIV/AIDS first started circulating, many of the Christian community labeled the disease as a punishment for being gay, which he said “was one of those things you have to laugh at or you cry.”
Since then, much of Pieters’ work has revolved around him reclaiming the beauty of what it means to be homosexual. He shares advice and wisdom with younger members of the Gay Men’s Chorus and educates them on ways they can protect themselves.