Gay Iconography | Pedro Zamora | The Real World

Gay Iconography: 'The Real World' Of Pedro Zamora


MTV’s The Real World wasn’t always the alcohol-fueled neanderthal breeding program it became in later seasons. The show’s first few casts helped to not only pioneer socially-conscious reality television, but they also told some of the most ground-breaking stories about the LGBT community ever to grace the medium.

The third season, based in San Francisco, famously featured the story of HIV/AIDS activist Pedro Zamora. Born in Cuba, Zamora and his family came to America in 1980 and resided in the suburbs of Miami. He learned he was HIV-positive while still in high school, and spent the years following his diagnosis speaking out about living with HIV/AIDS and the importance of educating young people about the disease.

As part of 1994’s The Real World: San Francisco cast, Pedro furthered the national dialogue about HIV/AIDS. A former honor student and star athlete, he pushed his roommates’ understanding of people living with HIV/AIDS, and, in turn, the perceptions of audiences. (He also taught us that Puck was an idiot, but we probably would’ve come to that conclusion on our own.)

Revisit Pedro’s impact with some clips, AFTER THE JUMP

Pedro first met roommate Cory. He disclosed his HIV status to her on their way to the house. Later in the first episode, above, he shared his work as an AIDS educator with the rest of his roommates using a scrapbook.

Long before we were talking about things like Proposition 8, Pedro and his partner Sean Sasser celebrated one of the first same-sex commitment ceremonies on television. (The first was between Bob Paris and Rod Jackson on The Joan Rivers Show in the early ‘90s.) They were nominated as “Favorite Love Story” at the 2008 Real Worlds Awards Bash. You can watch their commitment ceremony at the 15-minute mark in the clip above.


Zamora had no health insurance, but MTV set up a trust to pay his medical costs. He died hours after the final episode of The Real World: San Francisco aired. To honor Pedro, MTV aired A Tribute To Pedro Zamora. You can see his castmates and friends speak of Zamora’s impact in the clip above.

President Bill Clinton called Zamora before he died to thank him for his work. He later would appoint Zamora’s partner Sean Sasser to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.


In 2008, Bunim-Murray (the production company behind The Real World) produced its first ever scripted project, Pedro, a film dramatizing Zamora’s life. The screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black and Paris Barcly, and it was an Official Selection at the Toronto Film Festival.

Did you watch Pedro on The Real World: San Francisco?

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  1. A liberal with AIDS. Such a hero/icon.

    Posted by: Rick | Jul 5, 2014 1:12:14 PM

  2. I remember watching this when I was a kid. Literally, a kid. I was 12. I was still telling myself every day that I'd never be able to be Out, and live a real life, and it was amazing to see him living his life for all the world to see, and sharing his story, his experiences, his struggle. He lived fearlessly and I was in awe.

    This season aired just 2/3 years after the death from HIV-complications of the man that was "my parent's first gay friend" - a great man who helped open the doors for me. Pedro did the same. When we share our stories we inspire others and make people feel less alone.

    well met, Pedro.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 5, 2014 1:20:41 PM

  3. Oh, kiwi is making a story all about him again. How predictable.

    Posted by: Rick | Jul 5, 2014 1:23:48 PM

  4. Pedro's presence really showed the heights that show could achieve.

    Unfortunately, the presence and popularity of Puck highlighted where the show would end up.

    Posted by: Buck | Jul 5, 2014 1:38:05 PM

  5. "MTV’s The Real World wasn’t always the alcohol-fueled neanderthal breeding program it became in later seasons."

    There has to be a better way to introduce an article about such an inspirational man. This is far too juvenile and broad to be included at all much less as the opening.

    Posted by: ej | Jul 5, 2014 1:38:30 PM

  6. This a great resource . Pedro means so much to many people, in fact, I am writing about him for a new biographical book, so please look at my URL and send your comments. Chris Pullen -Bournemouth University, UK.

    Posted by: Chris Pullen | Jul 5, 2014 2:35:14 PM

  7. Rick why haven't you taken the as pipe yet?

    You hat the world and everyone in it You should just LEAVE.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 5, 2014 2:36:19 PM

  8. Pedro, and the first few seasons of The Real World really impacted me. I remember being devastated when Pedro died, like I had lost a friend. It's a shame what that show has become since then. It's a total booze-soaked cringefest which showcases just how far stupid people will go to get 15 minutes of fame.

    Posted by: AJ | Jul 5, 2014 2:47:24 PM

  9. Pedro was one of the stars that season, but the show decided to concentrate most eps on Puck, the girls that actually lived in the house and little else. You could tell the cast was spending very little time there, including Pedro. The ended up following Puck around on his bicycle messenger route and meeting up with his hapless mom. Pedro appeared mostly in the beginning, then his health started failing and he was only in one or two eps in the last half of the season. Very little of it was about AIDS or his speaking engagements. Most of it was his conflicts with Puck. They changed tact right at the end and sent them all to Hawaii, which didn't change much.

    Whatever Pedro had done to deserve praise prior to the show was never in evidence on air. On air he was uptight, full of himself and arrogant. Puck was his perfect foil--an uncouth slob raised to always speak his mind. Clearly this was all done by design and edited for effect. The "screenwriter", "poet" and medical student were all much too intelligent for the show and given bit parts, plus, two of them had real jobs. The poet actually lived with his family in SF while shooting was going on, his poetry was ridiculous and he was uninteresting. So, it was the vapid girls (they threw in a new cast member later to add to the vapidity) that the show spent 80% of its time on while most of the audience was probably more interested in more Puck-Pedro battles.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 5, 2014 2:58:13 PM

  10. I think it is sad that there are so many before and after Pedro with this horrible disease. It has been 33 years since the first cases started being reported. When are we going to do something about it?

    Posted by: Robert | Jul 5, 2014 3:03:14 PM

  11. I remember when he came to my middle school to speak in Sex Ed class (this was around 90 or 91). He spoke about being HIV +, the various ways to transmit the disease, and the different methods to avoid contracting the disease. He seemed like a really nice guy, and genuinely wanted to educate people about AIDS and safe sex. I can't believe it's been almost 20 years since he passed away.

    Posted by: FuryOfFirestorm | Jul 5, 2014 3:51:53 PM

  12. I heard about Pedro; he seemed to have been a beacon of courage when all around was raging against 'the gays' and AIDS.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Jul 5, 2014 4:48:57 PM

  13. Pedro's story was incredibly importent to me as a 13 year old. Very strange to think I'm now about 10 years older than he was when he died.

    Posted by: Dan | Jul 5, 2014 10:52:57 PM

  14. I'm glad Pedro's legacy lives on and he is still remembered. I was 15 when this season aired and not really aware of what my true sexuality was at that point, but I still picked up on the normalcy about being gay when I was watching Pedro on The Real World. He definitely was a role model and made an impact on many people's lives.

    Posted by: SpaceCadet | Jul 6, 2014 12:12:46 AM

  15. Pedro made a difference.....he had impact! How many people can say that?

    Posted by: Greg | Jul 6, 2014 1:35:02 AM

  16. How I adored Pedro Zamora. Being age 30 at the time, I guess I was a little older than the typical viewer. I was probably five to ten years older than most of the cast members. But as the article above pointed out, the earlier seasons of Real World weren't so much like watching binge drinking contests of a frat house. My favorites in the cast were Judd, Pam, and Pedro.

    Posted by: Rotawan | Jul 6, 2014 10:28:22 AM

  17. @EJ - Some people only know 'The Real World' as "the alcohol-fueled neanderthal breeding program it became in later seasons." The difference between the early seasons and the output of this century are night/and day.

    Posted by: antisaint | Jul 6, 2014 3:46:09 PM

  18. EJ, I genuinely took the opening line as biting commentary on the current state of reality programming on MTV. The Real World was once groundbreaking and thought-provoking. Now it's laughable and embarrassing for everyone involved.

    Posted by: Brian Krakow | Jul 6, 2014 10:23:18 PM

  19. @Brian Krakow,

    Maybe because it was about pushing the envelope as far as being perceived as 'hip'. Hipness and trends are very fluid, especially in our world today. It gets harder to find that 'edge' for an audience that's more jaded all the time. Certainly having a gay guy with AIDs is pretty blase stuff by 2014 standards.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 6, 2014 11:53:17 PM

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