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Remembering Pedro Zamora During Hispanic Heritage Month

Remembering Pedro Zamora During Hispanic Heritage Month

<p><em></em>Remembering Pedro Zamora During Hispanic Heritage Month </p>
Ken Probst (background Shutterstock)

Ken Probst (background Shutterstock)

We lost the courageous HIV/AIDS activist almost 30 years ago — yet his legacy continues to inspire future generations.

Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15. This time period is meant to celebrate the rich histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans with ancestors that came from Spain, Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. As 2023's Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, I'd like to take a moment to pay homage to one of our greatest heroes in the fight against HIV and its stigma, Pedro Zamora.

Zamora would have turned 51 this year. Back in the early 1990s, fans of MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco grew to love the charismatic, intelligent, and handsome young activist. His untimely death due to AIDS-related complications rocked a generation almost 30 years ago. He was only 22 years old when he passed away, but was still able to make a huge and lasting impact on the public’s perception of what it meant to be living with HIV/AIDS.

The gay Cuban-American bravely came out as HIV-positive on the reality series in 1993, at a time when stigma was at its peak and before today's lifesaving antiretroviral drugs were developed. Zamora put a human face to the epidemic, and by sharing his experience and was able to make an enormous contribution to breaking down stigma.

Former President Bill Clinton, who was in office at the time, personally called Zamora when he was on his deathbed, and thanked him for his contributions to the fight against HIV & AIDS. In an official statement released by President Clinton, he said of Zamora, “In his short life, Pedro educated and enlightened our nation. He taught all of us that AIDS is a disease with a human face and one that affects every American, indeed every citizen, of the world. And he taught people living with AIDS how to fight for their rights and live with dignity.”

Pedro Zamora in the early 1990s

Toward the end of his life, Zamora expressed concern for the lack of others willing to help continue the fight. "I wonder now, as I look around me, who will pick up the torch?" However, wherever he is now, we're sure he's proud that his legacy has indeed lived on — and continues to bring hope, help, and inspiration to the world.

Several of his former castmates continue to keep his memory and vision alive. Real World: San Francisico costars Judd Winnick and Pam Ling, who have been married now for 20 years and have two children, grew very close with Zamora while fiming the show, and have been dedicated to HIV causes ever since. In 2000, just a few years after his death, Winnick channeled his grief into an award-winning graphic novel entitled Pedro and Me. Ling, a physician, entered into an AIDS research fellowship in 1999 and still specializes in HIV research.

I had the pleasure of meeting the couple at a fundraiser in 2018 for the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship, and their love and admiration for Zamora, and their passion to continue his work, was palpable. Fellow castmates Cory Murphy and Mohammed Bilal were also present to lend their support. The intimate event was held in the home of Real World creator and executive producer Jonathan Murray, who was an longtime supporter of the program.

'Real World: San Francisco' castmates gathered in 2018 to support a scholarship in Pedro's name; (left to right) Judd Winnick, Cory Murphy, Mohammed Bilal, and Pam Ling (photo by Desiree Guerrero)

The annual scholarship, created by the National AIDS Memorial, "supports the academic pursuits of young activists working in their communities who carry Pedro’s torch forward in pursuit of a bold vision that never again will a community be harmed because of fear, silence, discrimination, or stigma."

The recipients of the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship are announced every December 1, on World AIDS Day. For more information, visit

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Desirée Guerrero