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American schoolteacher, pastry chef, and reality TV star Sean Franklin Sasser (October 25, 1968 – August 7, 2013) was perhaps most known for his portrayal on MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco, which highlighted his friendship with AIDS campaigner Pedro Zamora. Sasser’s friendship with Zamora was a major plot component that season, despite the fact that he was not an original cast member. In a groundbreaking moment for television, the couple also had a commitment ceremony in which they exchanged vows as the first same-sex couple to do so.
Sasser, Sean Franklin, was born on October 25, 1968, and he was raised in the Motor City. His parents separated when he was six years old, and ever since then, his father, a sergeant in the army, has been largely gone from his life, sending him a Casio watch for his birthday. (When Sasser was an adult and living in Minneapolis, his father called and left a message with his then-boyfriend, but he didn’t leave his number or return the call.)
Patricia Sasser, Sasser’s mother, brought him up alongside his younger sister. Sasser went to a private school, something he acknowledged was probably not the norm for young black people living in the city of Detroit. After that, he enrolled at the prestigious magnet high school for college prep, Cass Technical High. “I wanted to be one of the first prominent black archaeologists to call the bluff on all this Egyptian material that was taken by other cultures,”
Sasser said of his motivation for attending the University of Chicago to study Near Eastern civilizations after graduating from high school. But he struggled with boredom and depression and barely made it through his first year of college. Sasser decided to take a year break from school, thus he left college. Attempting to join the U.S. Navy after coming out as homosexual to his deeply religious mother (the daughter of a minister) led to his dismissal from the service,
as he explained in a 1997 interview “I was tired of being a gay man. I had hoped for success. Discipline, training, and all that.” Sasser, age 19, was required to submit to an HIV blood test before he could leave his house. He had always enjoyed cooking and envisioned opening his own restaurant, so he made the decision to pursue training in the culinary arts.
“It wouldn’t be so bad out if it wasn’t for the wind” I told myself as I walked back to work from my lunch break today… if that isn’t the most midwest thing I’ve said all week🤣 pic.twitter.com/AQSEUxGpK9
— Sean Gay (@SeanGay) September 10, 2022
Sasser got cooking employment in Chicago after graduating school, but he was preoccupied with thoughts of his own imminent death from AIDS. He “needed to figure out how to keep living,” so he relocated to San Francisco, where he met more people with the same experiences and perspectives as himself, including other HIV-positive individuals who were closer in age.
Sasser began speaking publicly about his own experience with HIV after he became involved in a youth HIV-positive movement that called for increased support for young people living with the virus. After that, he started helping out with a programme for young people of colour in the Bay Area called Bay Area Positives. Several of the group’s promotional videos, including “Not Me,” were broadcast on PBS with his participation. Annie Leibovitz took his portrait for an anti-HIV/AIDS campaign.