Last night, The Real World Miami alum Dan Renzi broke the news that Sean Sasser died of mesothelioma. Sasser became known by many as the boyfriend of Pedro Zamora, who first appeared on The Real World: San Francisco. While he only appeared on a few episodes of the show, Sasser and Zamora had a lasting impact on gay and straight viewers. Their moment on The Real World showcased an honest portrayal of gay life rarely seen on TV. Since then, the show has has included a number of LGBTQ characters that have molded the perception of queer life in America.
10. Dustin Zito’s gay porn past is discovered
Though straight himself, Dustin’s past with gay porn is discovered when off-screen friends of the housemates of RW: Las Vegas send links to his x-rated videos. The secret, which Dustin hoped to reveal himself, was usurped by the power of Google in the modern age of the show. Dustin’s pornographic past spurs the inevitable debate of “gay for pay” porn actors and their true sexuality as well as homophobia in the house.
9. Chris and Ruthie show two sides of alcoholism
Whether or not it was directly linked to struggles with coming out, both Chris (RW: Chicago) and Ruthie (RW: Hawaii) became two examples of LGBT culture facing addictions to drugs and alcohol. In Chris’ case, he admits from day one that he is a recovering alcoholic but then later works at a bar, which the roommates question how he can remain sober. On the other side of the coin is Ruthie, who over the course of the season is discovered to have a drinking problem. She’s eventually forced to go to rehab and sober up.
8. Zach and the boys show their homophobic side
In 2011, when it felt like most of the country had become more accepting of the LGBT community, the castmembers of RW: San Diego remind audiences that there’s still tons of ground to cover with acceptance. The housemates become visibly upset when they realize Frank is gay and hooking up with a guy in the house. They even discuss the double standard of hooking up with women and how it’s acceptable but then go back to complaining that their “straight friend” is now gay.
7. Mike goes through a retro gay awakening
Most LGBT characters on RW come on the show out, proud and open. However, that mentality is not always reflective of many who are either late to the game or slow to explore their sexuality. Mike from RW: D.C. was an example of a man finding his way – just in front of millions on TV. Even though he identified as bisexual, he primarily dated men on the show and dealt with issues related to gay marriage and his Christian background.
6. Danny doesn’t ask, doesn’t tell
Even though RW: New Orleans was part of a transition era for the series, where it became more about drinking than it did about documenting, the season touched on some more serious issues, including Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. During his time in Louisiana, Danny Roberts dated an active officer of the military, Paul Dill, who could not show his face on TV. Up until a reunion special, his identity had remained a mystery to protect him from trouble.
5. Norman Korpi is the first out LGBT housemate
Unbeknownst to Norman and audiences at the time, he and six strangers would launch MTV history with the first season of The Real World. Though he was one of the first openly gay people to appear on television as himself, MTV portrayed him as bisexual – blurring the lines of his sexuality.
4. Katelynn Cusanelli reveals she is transgender
On the 21st season, Katelynn becomes the series transgender roommate. At first, she reveals this information to only one of her roommates (JD) but later opens up to the rest of the housemates. On the show, she discusses her transition, which she completed nearly a year before appearing on the show.
3. Genesis encounters homophobia from a young girl
On RW: Boston, Genesis is confronted with a homophobia from a surprising source: a young girl who attends an after school program the cast members have to work at. The young girl reveals that she thinks she hates gay people because of her mother’s influence. Kameelah prompts an interesting and healthy discussion with the students in front of Genesis and helps pull back the layers of acceptance.
2. Pedro reveals he has AIDS
On the third season, RW: San Francisco debuted a man who would become one of the most influential gay people in MTV history. At the time, audiences were gripped week to week by Pedro’s passions and struggles. His relationships and work opened the eyes of many who had no idea what being gay or even living with AIDS meant.
1. Pedro and Sean get married
Nearly a decade ago, these two men made a historic impression on The Real World and TV history with their wedding, which aired on the 19th episode of the season. Long before the Supreme Court would come close to making a ruling on gay marriage, the exchange rings in a civil union at the house. It’s a touching, powerful moment for any young viewer – gay or straight.