In the new issue of HIV Plus magazine, Project Runway designer Mondo Guerra, who came in second place in the show’s eighth season, opens up about the reaction to his revelation that he was HIV+ on the popular reality competition.
In an episode that aired in 2010, Guerra (right, with Nancy Pelosi) revealed to judges—and millions of Americans—that his choice of putting bright, bold plus signs on a pair of pants was inspired by his being HIV+, something he’d been keeping secret for a decade.
The out fashion prodigy, 33, says he’s become more comfortable in being an advocate: “When you get up [to the podium], you feel like people are there to participate, to listen to you, they’re really engaged in what you’re saying,” Guerra tells writer Neal Broverman. “So it’s actually grown quite relaxing.”
Guerra, who now appears on Project Runway All-Stars, admits his decision to reveal his serostatus wasn’t an easy one:
He knows he’ll likely be referred to as “the HIV-positive designer” for the foreseeable future, but the reception he received after Season 8 touched him deeply. He’s also now working with fellow HIV+ activist and Project Runway alum Jack Mackenroth on the Living Positive by Design campaign, which stresses the importance of a strong mind as well as a strong body.
“After the episode aired, there was so much positive response from so many different people,” Guerra remembers. “A lot of that was from people who were still keeping their status a secret and letting the stigma really define who they were. It was keeping them from being honest. So coming off the show it’s been my responsibility to continue the conversation.”
Since he revealed his status, Guerra’s family has proven both warm and understanding. “My entire family has really stepped up to the plate,” he says. “Now they have put a face to the disease and have sought out the materials to educate themselves. Within my own little family—well, I’m Mexican, so it’s not that little—to see them educate themselves and talk openly about HIV and ask me questions makes me really proud to know that with my community, I’ve made a difference. I hope that continues with my advocacy work.”
After wrapping Runway, Guerra designed a limited edition series of T-shirts with proceeds going to amfAR, and rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange with Liza Minnelli and Kenneth Cole to honor World AIDS Day in 2010. In November 2011, he participated in a roundtable discussion at the 15th annual U.S. Conference on AIDS and—along with fellow Runway veteran Jack Mackenroth—he’s a spokesman for Living Positive by Design, a campaign stressing the importance of a strong mind and healthy body in fighting the virus.
Photos: Lifetime, Nancy Pelosi