By Jobina Fortson
The gloomy weather in Washington, D.C., didn’t cloud the energy inside the National City Christian Church on Saturday as friends, family, and colleagues gathered to remember the life of Sean Sasser.
Sasser’s life was thrown into the spotlight in 1994 when he fell crazy in love with Pedro Zamora, who happened to be starring in “The Real World: San Francisco.” The groundbreaking season three of the series (it’s now filming season 29) showed Sasser and Zamora's relationship blossom on camera as they began dating, and eventually committing their lives to one another at a ceremony held in the famed Real World house on Lombard Street. On top of their admirable commitment to each other, Sasser and Zamora were AIDS activists — creating awareness and educating others about the disease.
Sasser played a pivotal role in television in the 1990s by breaking down barriers for the LGBTQ community. Gay couples on TV were a rarity 19 years ago. He also was a husband, son, brother, foster parent and so much more. The memorial service opened with a welcoming statement from Senior Pastor Stephen Gentle who was then followed by Phil Wilson, a friend and colleague of Sasser. Wilson had a tender moment as he read a heartfelt letter from former President Bill Clinton. Our former president said that Sasser touched him, that "he had the ability to show himself."
Photo: Sean's Memorial at National City Christian Church. (Jobina Fortson)
Pam Ling and Judd Winick, who also starred (and fell in love) on “The Real World: San Francisco” shared their memories of Sasser. "TV simplifies, but we knew Sean as a friend, an activist, a magician with food, and funny," they said. The couple also explained how Sasser always had the ability to enjoy the moment, "we think of him just letting go."
Ling and Winick noted the stereotypes HIV and AIDS in the early 90's and how Sasser became one of their best educators. He helped them understand; and because of that, Ling and Winick did not see HIV when they looked at Sasser, they saw their friend. Douglas Brooks from AIDS United, a friend and colleague of Sasser's husband said "My life is better because of Sean," he continued by pointing out that because Sasser lived his life openly as a gay black man, others were able to see that it is possible to live and love as they see fit.
The most touching moment from the memorial service was hearing words from Sasser's husband Michael Kaplan. Kaplan professed that he was advised not to speak but then began, "Sean was the love of my life. ... Sean was the balance that brought calm and presence in the moment and was able to radiate it out, always making sure everything would be OK." He went on, "Sean made his difference in this world, he changed the world, not at all for what he said, but for how he lived." Sasser did this through "his love, passion, and relationships, mentoring children, in his cooking, and in speaking out on HIV … he was a beautiful bright light."
The AIDS United Board of Trustees has created the Sean Sasser Endowment Fund in remembrance of Sasser. The fund will be used to support programs focused on the improvement of health among gay men of color. Sasser's memory and spirit live on and as Michael Kaplan said, the grounbreaking "Real World" star "is loved, and will be missed."