Rev. Dr. A. Stephen Pieters, widely known as Steve Pieters, passed away on July 8 at the age of 70 in Los Angeles. Pieters, an influential AIDS activist and long-term HIV survivor, rose to prominence following his historic interview with televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in 1985. The interview, which showcased a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man with AIDS, was particularly noteworthy considering Bakker’s elevated status within the evangelical community. This significant moment in Pieters’ life was recently depicted in the 2021 film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” featuring Jessica Chastain as Bakker and Randy Havens as Pieters. Chastain, who won an Oscar for her performance, expressed her admiration for Pieters, emphasizing his role as an inspiration and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS. Pieters’ impact was profound, and his legacy will be cherished by the countless individuals whose lives he touched.
A Triumph Over Adversity: Pieters’ Journey with AIDS
Pieters’ journey with AIDS began in 1982 when he received his initial diagnosis of GRID (Gay Related Immunodeficiency). The following year, he faced an even more challenging diagnosis of AIDS/Kaposi’s Sarcoma and stage four lymphoma. A health professional even predicted that he would not survive beyond 1985. However, Pieters defied the odds when he became the first patient to participate in an anti-viral drug trial for HIV treatment. Within six weeks of receiving the drug suramin, his cancers went into remission. Although the drug was later discontinued due to toxic side effects, Pieters’ cancers remained in remission. His remarkable story of survival and healing will be chronicled in his upcoming memoir, “LOVE is Greater Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Hope,” to be published in 2024 by Rowman & Littlefield. The book will not only delve into Pieters’ recovery from AIDS in the 1980s but also shed light on his subsequent health challenges and adventures in Hollywood.
A Trailblazer in the Fight Against AIDS
Born in Andover, Massachusetts, Pieters found his calling within the Metropolitan Community Church. Following his ordination, he served as the Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, Connecticut. However, it was his groundbreaking interview with Tammy Faye Bakker that propelled him into the national spotlight and forever changed public perceptions of those affected by AIDS. Pieters’ influence extended beyond the interview, as he became a prominent figure in the AIDS community. He was invited to speak at numerous events, including AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment To Life, the first entertainment industry dinner AIDS benefit hosted by Elizabeth Taylor in 1985. Pieters continued to make significant contributions to the cause, presenting the Buddy of the Year Award to Whoopi Goldberg at APLA’s third Commitment to Life benefit in 1987 and making an appearance in the play “AIDS US/II” in 1990. His remarkable journey is also documented in several books, including “Surviving AIDS” by Michael Callen, “Voices That Care” by Neal Hitchens, and “Don’t Be Afraid Anymore” by Rev. Troy D. Perry. Pieters’ impact on society was further recognized in 2019 when examples of his work in AIDS Ministry and his life as a person living with HIV/AIDS were displayed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Additionally, he was featured in the 2023 documentary “Commitment to Life,” highlighting his contributions to the AIDS movement.
Pieters’ legacy extends beyond his activism. He provided the opening invocation at the Hollywood Museum’s annual “Real to Reel: Portrayals and Perceptions of LGBTQ+s in Hollywood” shortly before his passing. Funeral services and memorials honoring his life are yet to be announced, but individuals can make donations in his honor to organizations such as AIDS Project Los Angeles, City of Hope, The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and Project Angel Food. As we bid farewell to Rev. Dr. A. Stephen Pieters, we remember his unwavering dedication, his message of love and acceptance, and the profound impact he had on countless lives.