Now HIV-positive people are nearly impossible to find in movies or on scripted television. But there is a bright spot, and it’s on the small screen. For the past few years reality television has offered up at least half a dozen HIV-positive role models. Project Runway’s Jack Mackenroth and Mondo Guerra (shown above), Ongina from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Jamar Rogers from The Voice, David Munk on Sundance’s Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, and John Gray from Bravo’s Top Design are not only accomplished in their careers, but many are also advocates for research and education, and speak out often against HIV stigma and discrimination.
At 2011’s U.S. Conference on AIDS, Mackenroth and Guerra promoted the Living Positive by Design campaign, sponsored by Merck. The two entrepreneurs talked with convention attendees about how people with HIV can maintain a positive outlook on life and how important it is to keep up with doctor’s appointments. Guerra, who won this year’s Project Runway All Stars, even participated in one of the conference’s most high-profile discussions.
“[Mackenroth and I] really want to convey to people living with the disease to continue to have a positive outlook on life,” Guerra tells HIV Plus. “It’s a really simple message, but a really important one that someone living with HIV may forget on a day-to-day basis.”
Mackenroth, who appeared on Project Runway’s fourth season and disclosed his status publicly after leaving the show for health reasons (not HIV-related), just launched Volttage.com, a dating and social networking site for HIV-positive men. Since leaving that show, he’s never shied away from discussing his status and using his celebrity to battle ignorance.
“I’m not good at holding on to personal secrets, and I’m quite uncensored and outspoken,” Mackenroth says. “However, I can completely understand why others have difficulty with disclosure because of the massive stigma of living with HIV. I’ve had my share of unpleasant reactions, but it doesn’t bother me. I try to use those experiences as a chance to educate someone.”