Reverend Steve Pieters, who made history and national headlines after being interviewed by Tammy Faye Bakker in 1985 about living with HIV, is dead at 71 after succumbing to several concurring cancer battles including complications from Gastrointestinal Cancer.
Pieters’ sit-down with Bakker, which aired on the evangelical network “Praise the Lord” (PTL), was one of the first national TV interviews to spotlight an HIV-positive gay man in America.
“She wanted to be the first televangelist to interview a gay man with AIDS,” Pieters, told PEOPLE in a 2021 interview for the film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” which recreated the scene. “It was a very scary time and there was still a lot of fear about AIDS and about being around a person with AIDS. And I thought the opportunity to reach an audience that I would never otherwise reach was too valuable to pass by,” Pieters added.
In the interview, Pieters described how he was treated as someone living with AIDS: “People are scared…they don’t know how to deal with terminal illness, they don’t know how to deal with something as stigmatized as AIDS… but there are people people who are breaking through that fear, who are not letting their fear get in the way of ministry.”
While the interview drew sharp criticism for interview a gay man with HIV/AIDS on a Christian evangelical network, Bakker famously broke the mold in HIV stigma by saying live on air, “There a lot of Christians here who love you.”
Actress Jessica Chastain, who played Tammy Faye Bakker in the 2021 Searchlight Pictures film, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” tweeted her condolences, saying, “He was a constant reminder that God is LOVE.”
“Rest In Peace sweet angel Steve. You made a difference in the lives of so many and you will be missed,” Chastain said.
Steve Pieters was an inspiration and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS for over 35 years.— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) July 9, 2023
He was a constant reminder that God is LOVE
Rest In Peace sweet angel Steve. You made a difference in the lives of so many and you will be missed 🤍 @aspieters pic.twitter.com/mZus9Jatwa
Pieters became a longtime activist in the HIV/AIDS and recovery communities was an active pastor and later a field director for the as Field Director of AIDS Ministry for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) denomination. He received his Master of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1979.
In 1982, as the Los Angeles Blade reports, he resigned his position in Hartford and moved to Los Angeles, where he began to experience a series of illnesses that were diagnosed as AIDS-Related Complex. In April, 1984, he was diagnosed with AIDS/Kaposi’s Sarcoma and stage four lymphoma, and he was told by one health professional that he would not live to see 1985.
Not only did he live to see 1985, but during that year he became “patient number 1” on the first anti-viral drug trial, taking Suramin for a total of 39 weeks. While on Suramin, both cancers went into complete remission. Due to toxic side effects, the drug was discontinued for use against AIDS.