Ongina (or Ryan Ong Palao, as he’s known to his parents) was one of the first reality TV stars to come out as HIV-positive. The man behind the adorable drag persona disclosed his diagnosis on season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in a heart-wrenching speech following a challenge victory.
“It’s definitely helped me overcome my own demons about being HIV-positive,” Ongina told The Backlot last year. “During the time that I won that challenge, the emotions were so overwhelming for me. It hit home for me so much, and when I won, a certain emotion came over me. I was so relieved and happy and the moment was so special. I can’t describe it!”
Of course, Ongina — one of the most likable contestants to grace Drag Race in its many seasons — didn’t stop at that special moment. Since then he’s used his popularity to make a difference in the world of prevention and testing, even teaming up with OraQuick, maker of the first at-home oral HIV test, to promote testing.
“I think in some way people have a closer connection to reality TV stars versus TV/film actors,” Ongina once told HIV Plus. “It’s more relatable when someone is watching reality TV and the person comes out as HIV-positive. It’s feels authentic.’”
Today, Ongina has a Web series called HIV + Me, in which he talks with people living with HIV about their experiences with the disease. The project is something Ongina is passionate about because of the diversity of people showcased.
“I think that is very important for people to see these kinds of stories so they don’t feel alone, isolated, or not knowing how to deal with such big news when they find out they are positive,” Ongina told Windy City Times. “It also teaches people to be aware of the disease that is still part of our lives.”