In Memoriam: Sean Sasser, HIV/AIDS activist who appeared on MTV’s ‘The Real World’

This week, Sean Sasser, an HIV/AIDS activist who appeared on MTV's The Real World: San Francisco in 1994, passed away from a rare form of lung cancer that has been linked to the weakened immune system of some people with AIDS.

MTV televised Sean's commitment ceremony to Pedro Zamora, the HIV-positive star of the third season of The Real World who died that year. Their ceremony was one of the first celebrations of love and commitment between same-sex couples broadcast on television. Sean and Pedro hosted their ceremony in California in 1994, ten years before any same-sex couples in the United States could legally marry. This summer, same-sex couples in California finally won the freedom to marry once and for all.

Throughout his lifetime of activism, Sean had spoken out often about the importance of marriage for same-sex couples. In a 1997 interview with Poz magazine, he explained that not being legally married to the man he loved, Pedro, complicated things in the last days of Pedro's life. From the Poz interview:

I ask a question about the importance of legalized marriage for same-sex couples and Sean stops me cold. "I wish we'd had a marriage, because --"

He stops himself. His eyes begin to glisten as he looks away. "It's troublesome," he says. "If there had been some sort of support behind our commitment ceremony... I had a hard time dealing with his family. With Pedro's death and being allowed in the hospital... " Sean's struggling to find the right words. "I don't know. Maybe it could have helped the family deal with my presence, you know?"

In the years since appearing on The Real World, Sean became a strong and steady voice speaking out about HIV/AIDS awareness. He appeared in awareness campaigns for a number of LGBT organizations and, in recent years, lived in Washington, D.C. with his partner, Michael J. Kaplan, president of AIDS United, which works to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. 

Sean's death is a loss to the LGBT community. We wish our deepest condolences to his friends, family members, and everyone who admired his courage and advocacy over the years. 

Watch the episode of The Real World: San Francisco featuring Sean's commitment ceremony to Pedro: