Rev. Stephen Pieters has passed away. He was a prominent HIV/AIDS campaigner and survivor whose 1985 television interview with Tammy Faye Bakker made him a household name in the fight against the disease. He was 70. After being admitted to the hospital two weeks prior with an infection, Pieters passed away on Saturday in Los Angeles, according to publicist Harlan Boll.
When Pieters appeared via satellite on the Bakker-hosted Tammy’s House Party, which was broadcast on the PTL Network and watched by millions of evangelical Christians throughout the southeastern United States, he had already received diagnoses for AIDS-related complicated in 1982, Kaposi sarcoma, and Stage 4 lymphoma in 1984.
Pieters told People magazine two years ago, “She wanted to be the first televangelist to interview a gay man with AIDS. It was a really frightening time, and there was still a lot of stigma surrounding AIDS and being around an AIDS patient. And I believed the chance to connect with a group of people I would never have otherwise was too good to miss.
For Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), which stars Jessica Chastain as Bakker in an Oscar-winning performance, that interview was recreated. Pieters was portrayed by Randy Havens in the movie.
In 2021, Chastain said to THR’s Mia Galuppo that, in her opinion, the Pieters interview was the most crucial moment to get down, right down to the heart-shaped necklace Bakker had created that day to symbolize how “everyone is deserving of love.”
More than almost anything else, he once remarked, “I have been amazed at how those 25 minutes I spent with Tammy Faye have reverberated through my life.” “So many people have said that my interview with her helped them come out or even saved them from suicide, by helping them realise they could be gay and Christian or that God was not punishing them with AIDS for being gay.”
On Twitter, Chastain wrote that Pieters “was a constant reminder that God is LOVE.”
The Elton John musical Tammy Faye, which premiered in London in October 2022, also had a section that was based on the Pieters-Bakker interview. Pieters was born in Andover, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1952. The mathematics department of Phillips Academy was presided over by his father. He graduated from Northwestern University and that institution in 1974.
HIV/AIDS Activist Rev. Stephen Pieters
He joined Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church in Chicago two years later. In 1979, he graduated with a master’s in divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary and was appointed pastor of Hartford, Connecticut’s Metropolitan Community Church. Pieters enrolled as “patient No. 1” in the initial HIV medication trial in 1985 after relocating to Los Angeles. Moreover, he consumed Suramin for a total of 39 weeks. His tumours in remission six weeks into treatment, he claimed.
Also in 1985, Elizabeth Taylor hosted the first Hollywood industry dinner AIDS benefit, Commitment to Life, where Pieters was a prominent speaker. At the third APLA Commitment to Life fundraiser, he gave Whoopi Goldberg the Buddy of the Year Award in 1987.
He made a cameo appearance as himself in the play AIDS US/II in 1990, and in 1993, he was one of 12 guests at the first AIDS Prayer Breakfast at the White House, which was also attended by Vice President Al Gore, President Bill Clinton, and Kristine Gebbie, the National AIDS Policy Coordinator. In addition, Pieters spent a significant amount of time on the board of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, with whom he performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles since 1994.
Pieters gave testimony and gave the opening benediction for the Hollywood Museum’s annual Real to Reel: Portrayals and Perceptions of LGBTQ+s in Hollywood just before he passed away. Rowman & Littlefield will release his autobiography, Love Is Greater Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Hope, this spring.
In order to convey the value of “believing in fairies when so many good fairies were dying, of believing in each other and in ourselves, enough to do the work of healing, whether that be healing into life, or healing into death,” Pieters carried a fairy wand wherever he talked. That wand is currently part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection. There has been no word on memorial services or funerals.