BOULDER, Colo. –
Boulder’s Frank O’Caña had a little help when he came out as a teen living in Pagosa Springs.
In 1994, during his senior year in high school, O’Caña watched MTV’s groundbreaking “The Real World: San Francisco,” which starred the late Pedro Zamora, the first openly gay, HIV-positive man on commercial television.
“It was actually really helpful to have someone else’s’ perspective,” said O’Caña, now a program coordinator with the Boulder County AIDS Project. “At that time, the disease was perceived and pushed as a gay disease.
“He helped filter the messaging I had received about HIV.”
Fifteen years later, MTV has made a film about Zamora, who died of HIV complications at age 22 — the day after the final episode of the San Francisco season aired.
The film, written by Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), is receiving a world premiere across the country Wednesday night; Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is hosting a screening at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Colorado’s Benson Science Hall.
“In the pop-culture world, Pedro certainly was an extraordinary force,” said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “His story reached a national audience. His death … touched the world and was symbolic of how his decision to speak out about the disease truly resonated with people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Zamora’s message certainly touched O’Caña.
Growing up Catholic in small-town Pagosa Springs, O’Caña said he was one of the first young people to come out as gay in the community.
“When I grew up, there was one stop light. My graduating class was around 60 people,” O’Caña said. “I think (Zamora) helped people challenge some of the messaging that was given to us by our school systems, our churches and political leaders.
“Particularly in communities like the one where I grew up — I mean that was really the only message we received — to be gay was immoral.”
MTV’s Maggie Malina, executive producer of “Pedro,” said it’s important to bring Zamora’s story to youth culture “because of the messages he stood for and lived a large part of his life trying to spread.”
Malina said MTV executives were very fortunate to have met Zamora, and were proud to provide a platform for him to speak about the disease.
Diagnosed at age 17, Zamora put a face to AIDS and HIV, and dedicated much of his life to speaking on the matter, including testifying before Congress.
“I became very passionate about making sure his story was told,” Malina said. “I’ve had many people tell me that Pedro was the reason they came out. He was a very crucial pioneer in the evolution of people’s understanding and perceptions of the disease.”