Coming Out: Mondo Guerra Tells His Story

By: Jase Peeples

In celebration of National Coming Out Day (October 11) will be sharing stories throughout the month from several members of our community who not only kicked down the closet door, but continue to inspire, encourage, and give us hope for a brighter future.

Mondo Guerra won the hearts of millions of people when he bravely came out as an HIV positive man on season 8 of the reality TV show Project Runway. Since his courageous disclosure, Mondo’s story has only become more inspirational. His recent return to Project Runway earned him the All Stars crown, proving people living with HIV can be open about their status, live positive lives, and achieve their dreams.

Today, Mondo has become a vocal advocate for HIV awareness while his star as a fashion designer continues to rise.

In honor of National Coming Out Day this week, the inspirational young man sat down with to discuss his coming out story, revealing his status on television, and encouraging others to love themselves.

Who was the first person you came out to and how old were you?
I came out to my mother on the car ride home from a marching band practice my senior year of high school. I was 18 years old at the time. A friend of mine, Stephanie, had just written me a letter telling me how strong she thought I was for dealing with so much bullying from other students for being flamboyant and that letter encouraged me to open up and tell my mother I was gay.

How did your mom react when you told her?
She responded by saying, “I’m not going to tell your father and don’t let the family know.” That really affected me because I didn’t understand why she would react that way. But now that I’m older I know that she was trying to protect me because she knew exactly how much I was going through at the time.

Millions of people watched you come out as an HIV positive person on Project Runway. How did your family handle this second and very public coming out?
I actually told them four days before the episode aired because I didn’t want them to find out on television. There was no easy way to do it. I just had to put it all out on the table and say, “Mom, I’m HIV positive, but I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. She looked at me and said, “I’m proud of you for talking about this and I hope you’re able to use this to inspire other people to have this conversation.”  And that’s the beautiful thing about what’s happened since that episode aired. I’ve been able to lend my voice to such an important cause and the support I’ve gotten from the viewers, the HIV community, and everyone else… it’s been amazing.

Speaking of raising your voice, you’ve become a vigorous advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. Tell us about the new education campaign you’ve been working with.
I Design is a wonderful program that helps people living with HIV to design a tailored approach to their treatment. Being HIV positive myself, I know from experience how important it is to have an open dialog with your doctor about your daily life in order to plan the most effective treatment and that’s what the heart of the campaign is all about – preparing people to have conversations and ask questions that will empower them. I would encourage everyone, whether they’re positive or negative, gay, straight, male, female, or just coming out to visit and access the information there because HIV affects all of us.

Have you had the opportunity to see the impact your voice is making in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
Yes, especially with my family. For example, I had never heard my family mention anything about HIV or AIDS before I came out as HIV positive, but since I revealed my status to them I’ve noticed they’ve begun to ask questions about it. Because they’ve been able to put a familiar face to the disease, they’re now open to educating themselves about HIV and the most amazing thing about that to me is they’re passing that information along to other people and educating them as well.

Was it more difficult revealing your HIV status to your parents than millions of people on TV?
Yes. Being Latino and being gay, I had my own ideas of what it meant to be HIV positive. It was very hard for me. In my family we were taught certain things were moral and others were not. When I tested positive I felt shame and guilt. I thought if my family found out they would disown me, but once I came out to them as positive they were very supportive. Looking back now I realize that if I would have allowed them to support me from the beginning I wouldn’t have had as difficult a time dealing with my status. So I think it was harder to come out as HIV positive to them because of the stigma the disease has.

What would you say to people who may be struggling with coming out about their sexuality or their status?
Love yourself! You don’t have to be afraid because you are worthy!  Surround yourself with people you can trust who will support you. Whether that’s your siblings, your parents, a teacher, or a friend, we all need a support system.