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10 HIV-Positive LGBT Characters We Love

By Olivia Ford and Kellee Terrell

September 2011

HIV-Positive LGBT Characters Who We Love

Over the past three decades, HIV/AIDS has been a part of our lives and our communities, and a fixture (though in no way enough of one) in pop culture. While this epidemic does not discriminate, we wanted to pay homage to the HIV-positive LGBT characters in film and television who have inspired us, made us cry, made us laugh and made us think over the past 30 years.


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Philadelphia

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) -- Philadelphia (1993)

Tom Hanks shines in his Oscar-winning performance as Andrew Beckett, a gay attorney who sues his top-shelf firm for firing him because he has AIDS. The film spotlights serious issues such as the fallacy in the idea of AIDS "innocents," and how homophobia and AIDSphobia play out in the workplace and in society as a whole. For the early '90s, this film seemed progressive for Hollywood given that it attempted to show two gay men in a relationship; but according to Hanks, more intimate scenes between him and his partner in the film, played by Antonio Banderas, didn't make the final cut. The result is an onscreen relationship that appears almost platonic.

Rent

Angel Dumott Schunard (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) -- Rent (Broadway Musical, 1996-2008; Film, 2005)

Whether you experienced "I'll Cover You" on Broadway or in the movie theater, we're pretty confident that you were moved -- some of you to tears. In Rent, Jonathan Larson's modern-day adaptation of the opera La Bohème, Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Jesse L. Martin were absolutely electric playing Angel Dumott Schunard and Tom Collins -- a couple (one trans woman, one gay man) living in Manhattan's bohemian East Village. This Tony-winning musical tells an emotional tale of love, loss, addiction, AIDS and, of course, the hardship of paying one's rent.

Longtime Companion

The Cast of Longtime Companion (1989)

This classic film begins at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic and borrows its title from the common euphemism used in those days in an obituary for a gay man's lover. It spans several years in the lives of three white gay couples as each is ravaged in its own way by AIDS. Despite being branded as an overly sentimental film that conspicuously lacks safer sex information, its depiction of care-giving, mutual support and LGBT activism was groundbreaking. The film features impressive early-career performances by Dermot Mulroney, Campbell Scott and Mary-Louise Parker. Bruce Davison scored an Oscar nod for his tender, gorgeous performance as a man caring for his dying partner.

Jeffrey

Steve Howard (Michael T. Weiss) and Darius (Bryan Batt) -- Jeffrey (1995)

Neither death and funerals, nor the vital importance of sex, love and joy, are handled lightly in this classic comedy. Based on the Paul Rudnick play of the same name, Jeffrey tells the story of a gay, HIV-negative Manhattan actor/waiter and sex addict (Steven Weber) who gives up the good stuff in the face of the city's growing AIDS epidemic. His best friend, Sterling (Patrick Stewart), has a younger chorus-boy lover, Darius (Bryan Batt), who is HIV positive -- as is Jeffrey's would-be love interest, Steve Howard (Michael T. Weiss). A colorful, hilarious cast of friends, bit players and memorable celebrity cameos eventually teach Jeffrey to "hate AIDS … not life."

Noah's Arc

Dr. Junito Vargas (Wilson Cruz) -- Noah's Arc (Logo, 2005-2006)

Noah's Arc -- Logo's comedy about four gay African-American men living and loving in Los Angeles -- may have lasted only two short seasons, but the character of Dr. Junito Vargas still has an effect on us. On the show, Wilson Cruz (best known for his role as Rickie Vasquez on the '90s teen drama My So-Called Life) plays the incredibly sexy HIV-positive doc who falls in love with the sexually free Ricky (Christian Vincent), who happens to be HIV negative. Unfortunately, Ricky's own hang-ups with HIV deter their romance for a bit. This storyline exploring stigma, fear, reconciliation and love reminded us that AIDSphobia in the gay community is still alive and kicking, but it can be overcome.

The Hours

Richard Brown (Ed Harris) -- The Hours (2002)

This ensemble piece based on Michael Cunningham's novel links a single day in the lives of characters in three time periods: author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman); an unhappy housewife, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), in 1950s California; and her son in the present day -- Ed Harris' character, Richard Brown. Richard is a rage-filled poet living with AIDS who is cared for by his former lover and best friend, Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). After Richard wins a prestigious award, Clarissa plans an elaborate party for him, but that celebration never happens. Instead, the viewer is privy to just how depressed and manic Richard is -- and to how his mental state leads him to suicide by jumping from his window. Despite garnering mixed reviews for his performance, Harris was nominated for an Academy Award along with co-stars Kidman and Moore; but Kidman was the only one who took home the gold.

Brother & Sisters

Saul Holden (Ron Rifkin) -- Brothers & Sisters (ABC, 2006-2011)

They don't call it "May Sweeps" for nothing. When the fourth season of ABC's now-defunct Brothers & Sisters ended, we were given a shocker: Uncle Saul (played by veteran actor Ron Rifkin) was diagnosed with HIV after unknowingly living with the virus for over 20 years. Only after a huge car crash did he admit to his family that he was positive. During the fifth and final season, we saw Saul struggle with coming to terms with his diagnosis and navigating the dating game. This storyline was definitely needed -- we hadn't had an HIV-positive series regular on primetime TV for five years.

Life Support

Amare (Evan Ross) -- Life Support (2007)

While most of the attention (and accolades) around this film went to Queen Latifah for her portrayal of Ana, an HIV-positive recovering addict from Brooklyn, the stand-out performance was by actor Evan Ross (Diana Ross' son). His fearless performance as Amare, a self-destructive gay HIV-positive teenage orphan who uses drugs to mask the pain of living with AIDS, was absolutely stunning. Amare's character gives us a glimpse of how hip-hop culture fuses with gay culture -- a rarity on both small and large screens. The last two scenes of the film are utterly heartbreaking and poignant.

A Home at the End of the World

Jonathan Glover (Dallas Roberts) -- A Home at the End of the World (2004)

In another film adaptation of a Michael Cunningham novel, Jonathan Glover (Dallas Roberts) and Bobby Morrow (Colin Farrell) experience an intense, borderline-romantic friendship that began in their teens and follows them from the suburbs of '70s Cleveland to Manhattan's East Village to Woodstock, N.Y., in the early 1980s. When Jonathan, a sexually active gay man, discovers what appear to be Kaposi's sarcoma lesions, his AIDS diagnosis seems inevitable to a 2004 audience. However, the centerpiece of this film isn't AIDS, but rather the puzzling and often touching love triangle between Jonathan and his roommates Bobby and Clare (Robin Wright) -- which leads to a lot of conflict and a baby. In the end, this film challenges the traditional notion of what constitutes a "real" family in America.

Queer as Folk

Vic Grassi (Jack Wetherall), Ben Bruckner (Robert Gant) and James "Hunter" Montgomery (Harris Allan) -- Queer as Folk (Showtime, 2000-2005)

The American version of the British series Queer as Folk boasted not one, but three HIV-positive characters, each from a different generation. Uncle Vic played the loveable long-term survivor who, thanks to the HAART era, rose from his deathbed to live his life to the fullest. Ben Bruckner is the intellectual English professor who fell in love with HIV-negative Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks). The couple ends up adopting James "Hunter" Montgomery, the HIV-positive teen hustler. Hunter is a hilarious smart-ass teen with a lot of depth -- he was a gay sex worker, but shocked his gay adoptive parents when he came out as straight (GASP!). The writers tackled HIV with much integrity as they explored a range of topics such as bug chasers, being outed at school and the complexities of being in a mixed-serostatus couple.

Who did we leave off the list? Leave a comment and let us know!

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