When Mondo Guerra, the Project Runway star and fashion designer, was asked if he was “that guy” on television at a Denver bar last year, he normally would have bristled. But Guerra, who had sent the man a drink to attract his attention, sensed something special in their exchange.
“We really connected on an emotional level,” the 35-year-old designer admits with a smile.
And now, over a year later, Guerra chats happily about this evening’s romantic plans with that same guy, his boyfriend, Eduardo. He’s cooking up a special meal for Eduardo, less formally known as “the cutest boy ever.” The two recently returned from El Paso, Texas, where Guerra finally met Eduardo’s parents.
It’s not just tonight’s meal, though. The gourmand Guerra has had food on his mind for some time since he is an official celebrity spokesman for Dining Out for Life, a nationwide fundraiser in which more than 3,000 participating restaurants will donate a portion of all sales on April 24 to local HIV and AIDS charities.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to help out the community,” says Guerra, who lists French food as among his favorite cuisines, particularly the frisée salad, a savory mélange of lettuce, bacon, and poached eggs. “And you get to enjoy a good dinner. So why not?”
This is the second year that Guerra has participated in Dining Out for Life in an official capacity. He designed a limited edition “Movers and Shakers” T-shirt, printed with salt and pepper shakers, the proceeds of which will benefit the organization. He says the purpose of the shirt’s playful design as well as the event is to get people talking about HIV.
Mondo shows of the limited edition “Movers and Shakers” T-shirt he designed for Dining Out for Life (above)
“If you want to do something special and very unique one night of your year, it could be April 24,” Guerra says. “Make a reservation on DiningOutForLife.com and enjoy it with somebody that you think might not necessarily seek out the information on HIV. And take them to this restaurant and maybe surprise them. ‘This is what’s happening. This is why we’re here.’ It could be a wonderful conversation over a great dinner.”
More than many, Guerra knows the power of words to educate. After over 10 years of keeping his status a secret, Guerra came out as HIV-positive in 2010, on season 8 of Project Runway, in which he finished as first runner-up. Now the Mexican-American designer has become an HIV activist and public figure, most recently working with Merck on a national education campaign called I Design. In this capacity, he tours the country and speaks at universities about his life story.
“I always encourage the students to leave the auditorium and take somebody out to dinner and have this conversation and really talk about what you learned,” he says, “I always ask them to think about what the takeaway was from this conversation: ‘What inspired you today?’ And use that inspiration to continue that conversation with somebody that you think might not necessarily want to talk about it or might not have the opportunity to talk about it. So it’s really about passing on the information.”
For Guerra, these heart-to-heart talks are often important milestones in his life too. Shortly after coming out on Project Runway, the Denver native spoke with the show’s mentor, Tim Gunn, about his own experiences with HIV and AIDS. The 60-year-old Gunn, who is also gay, has previously said that he has been celibate for about 30 years due to a fear of contracting the virus.
“We had time off camera,” Guerra says. “He sat next to me and encouraged me and congratulated me for being able to talk about it. He shared his own personal stories of being affected by HIV and moving to New York in the ’80s when it was so prominent and scary. It was really wonderful to feel that Tim felt comfortable enough to share a little bit of himself.”