Project Runway season 9 finalist Viktor Luna first appeared on the series in 2009, he was known as the “quiet one.” It’s not entirely surprising that since his time on reality TV, he has consciously moved away from the spotlight — the glare was a bit too harsh for the talented, yet humble, fashion designer. Still, Luna has recently reemerged in the public eye as he debuts his latest line of menswear, and joins the fight to eradicate HIV stigma.
“I’ve been kind of hiding a little bit from the Project Runway public,” the poz designer admits. Luna, who followed fellow Project Runway star Mondo Guerra’s lead by coming out HIV-positive on screen, is quick to add that his retreat from the public eye was “not because I’m ashamed or anything. It’s just, I like my privacy. I really enjoy it.”
Luna jokes that his newly grown beard and recent relocation from New York City to Los Angeles has helped him be more incognito. “It just happened to be perfect timing… I like my beard — and nobody recognizes me!”
Before venturing to the West Coast, Luna spent the previous decade-and-a-half immersed in New York’s fashion scene, but he is not new to Southern California. He grew up in L.A. after his family moved to the U.S. from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico when he was a kid. It seems fitting that the gifted artist, designer, and photographer was born — along with tequila and Mariachi music — in the country’s cultural center.
Luna says his mother, who worked as a seamstress in his youth, was an influence on his love of fashion, though his very traditional father was not exactly excited about his son’s choice of career direction.
And Luna says it was his love and pursuit of fashion, not fame, which led him to the Project Runway franchise (after getting to the finals in season nine, he returned for the third season of Project Runway All Stars). And it paid off. The show, and his enormous talent, helped him launch a successful career in fashion, altering the elegant and charming 37-year-old’s life.
When Luna returned for All Stars in 2014, not only had his talents grown, but so had his ability to open up to others. Throughout the season, he was no longer the quiet one. During filming, he decided to share something he had been keeping from the world for more than seven years: he was HIV-positive.
“For those who remember me during Project Runway season 9, I was very protective of my feelings and how I was portrayed on camera,” Luna wrote in an open letter after the episode. “Many thought I was just quiet, but in truth, I was just hiding from the world. This season, I wanted to let it all out and be myself. You’ve seen me laugh, cry, and openly share my feelings, but I haven’t shared everything… until now. To complete this process with myself and to truly feel free, I chose to reveal my HIV status. In doing this, I have come to accept the virus inside me, and I now know this little thing isn’t going to stop me anymore.”
Though he describes this experience as unbelievably freeing, Luna says not all reactions were totally positive.
“It was,” he pauses a moment, as if to find the right words, “it was very mixed. My partner [at the time] was definitely not happy with me disclosing it because to him it was very private, and he was very scared of the stigma. But that’s kind of why I did it — because I really wanted to speak out loud and just be free. It’s such a burden to carry, and when I spoke about it, I felt so free.”
Luna says in the end, the benefits of coming out about his status have far outweighed any negatives.
“I’m sure there’s negative people out there [who] probably see me or treat me different, but you know what? I really don’t even pay attention to them. I have no idea of what their thoughts are of me — and I really don’t care.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of disclosing on the show was the fact that, after the filming of the episode, he only had a couple of months to tell his family before it aired. His mother’s reaction serves as a wonderful example to others of how to react when a loved one shares their status.
“She was very positive and she said, ‘Nothing will ever change my love and who you are to me. You are my son.’ And that just broke me,” he recalls. “It made me feel so comforted. It just added to my freedom.”
He adds his mother remained very calm as he told her, and she only wanted to know if he was okay and if he was getting proper treatment. “She didn’t panic,” Luna recalls, which he says was enormously reassuring.
However, Luna was not quite as eager to tell his “very machista” father who had initially disapproved of him going into fashion, and with whom his relationship was a little more “iffy.”
“I’ve got to say, he knows now, and we never talk about it at all, but he has not changed his point of view towards me whatsoever,” Luna says, despite his father’s rigid old-school ways. “So, I appreciate that. I think it’s a milestone for the Latino family, to accept something like that, because other families will probably not take it well.”
Today, Luna continues to evolve and reinvent himself. After the aforementioned relationship eventually ended and the two parted ways as friends (“we still keep in touch”), he decided to take a post-break-up vacation to L.A. — and ended up staying, adding, “It wasn’t ideal at first, but I’m having the best time of my life here. I’m at peace.”
He has a new boyfriend now, who Luna says is very supportive and has no problem schooling others about what it means to love someone living with HIV. He recounts a particular instance when someone was questioning his boyfriend’s feelings about dating someone who is poz, to which his boyfriend responded that he “trusts a person who has been living with HIV for 10 years more than someone who doesn’t know anything about their status.”
This is especially true in light of current facts. Many people still don’t know of the recent scientific consensus that states once you achieve an undetectable viral load, you are unable to transmit the virus to others (dubbed U=U for undetectable equals untransmittable). The consensus has been endorsed by hundreds of world health organizations. Today, a large percentage of people living with HIV who are on regular treatment are able to lower their HIV to undetectable levels.
So why now — after successfully moving away from the spotlight into a happy, peaceful life working and living in Southern California — has Luna decided to “come out of hiding?”
After seeing fellow reality TV alum Ryan Palao (Ongina of RuPaul’s Drag Race) in amfAR’s Epic Voices campaign — an online video series featuring folks from different walks of life who are living and thriving with HIV — Luna decided to jump on board and become another voice helping to eradicate stigma by filming his own video.
“I knew [Palao] from a long time ago actually, before he was on Drag Race… we actually met during the AIDS Walk in New York, and we were just walking and getting to know each other, but I had no idea that he was positive,” Luna remembers. “I was positive at that time, and I didn’t share it with anybody, but once I saw him on the video I was like, ‘Oh cool. Yeah, definitely!’ So, he kind of pushed me to do it.”
Luna also credits Palao for his bravery, as one of the few reality stars since The Real World’s Pedro Zamora to disclose their status to the world.
“He kind of opened the door for me and he encouraged me to speak out loud, so that’s the power of it. That’s why I did it, too.”
Luna encourages people living with HIV to share their status (but stresses only if they are in a situation where they can do so safely) — not just to free themselves from the burden and shame, but also so they can help educate and reduce stigma.
“It’s funny because when you are in the closet,” Luna says about being poz but not out, “people talk about HIV and they speak so badly about it, and it’s kind of like you almost want to say it out loud and be like, Bitch, I’m HIV[-positive], too! Stop saying that! It’s like the inside of me was screaming. So, for me, it’s to turn it into a positive. Turn it into an opportunity to reach out and teach people what it really is, and it’s not that serious. There is no stigma, and I am equal just like anybody else.”