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The Rev. Dr. A. Stephen Pieters is a long-term survivor of AIDS. He is portrayed in the fall 2021 feature film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye starring Jessica Chastain whose performance earned a 2022 Oscar nomination for Best Actress as well as in the 2000 documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and in a forthcoming documentary film on the AIDS era to be released in 2022.
'Diagnosed with AIDS-related complex (ARC) in 1982, and AIDS/Kaposi's Sarcoma and stage four Lymphoma in 1984, when there was no treatment, his remarkable story of recovery serves as an inspiring example of healing and hope. His talks are a living history of AIDS. He has been interviewed by the Los Angeles Sunday Times, TIME magazine, LIFE magazine, and numerous television talk and news shows including CNN, Headline News, Tammy's House Party with Tammy Faye Bakker, CBS This Morning, and Real Life with Jane Pauley, among others.
In September 1985, he was a featured speaker at the first entertainment industry dinner AIDS benefit, given by Elizabeth Taylor and honoring former First Lady Betty Ford. In November 1987 he presented the Buddy of the Year Award to Whoopi Goldberg at APLA's third annual entertainment industry benefit. In the summer of 1990, he appeared as himself in the hit play, "AIDS US/II." His story also appears in the books, Surviving AIDS by Michael Callen, Voices That Care by Neal Hitchens, Don't Be Afraid Anymore by Rev. Troy D. Perry, and I Love to Tell the Story, by Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson.
Rev. Pieters was born and raised in Andover, Massachusetts, where his father chaired the Mathematics Department at Phillips Academy. Steve attended Phillips Andover in preparation for his theater studies at Northwestern University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Speech in 1974.
In 1976, he joined Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church in Chicago, where he decided to pursue a calling to the professional ministry. He received his Master of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1979, at which time he accepted a call as Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, Connecticut.
In Hartford, he served on the Board of Directors of the Hill Center, Inc., and Center City Churches, and on the Executive Committee of the Sexual Minorities Task Force of the Capitol Region Conference of Churches. The Gay Switchboard for the region was kept in his home, and he was interviewed in the print media, as well as on many TV and radio shows as one of the few local gay activists.
In April 1982, Rev. Pieters began experiencing the first symptoms of what we now know as HIV infection, but then was called GRID: Gay Related Immunodeficiency. Steve resigned his position in Hartford, and moved to Los Angeles, where he experienced a series of illnesses, including hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, mononucleosis, and pneumonia. That led to his diagnosed with ARC: 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.
There were no treatments available, and his doctor, Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., told him, "You in the church have more to offer at this point than we do in medicine." She also challenged him to "do everything you can to create the conditions for medication to work when we find something," adding, "If 0.001% end up surviving AIDS, than why not believe that you will be among that 0.001%, and act accordingly?"
In 1985, he became "patient number 1" on the first anti-viral drug trial to treat HIV. He took suramin for a total of 39 weeks. Within six weeks of treatment with suramin, both cancers went into complete remission. Due to toxic side effects, the drug was discontinued for use against AIDS. However, Rev. Pieters continues to enjoy a complete remission of his cancers, according to his physician, Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of City Of Hope.
Since his diagnosis, Rev. Pieters has served on the Boards of Directors of AIDS Project Los Angeles, the AIDS Interfaith Council of Southern California, the AIDS National Interfaith Network (USA), and the first Los Angeles City/County AIDS Task Force, and was Field Director for the AIDS Ministry of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches from 1987 to 1997. He has written a series of articles for Journey magazine about his experiences with AIDS, which have been collected with other writings of Rev. Pieters' in the book, I'm Still Dancing.
Rev. Pieters was one of twelve guests at the first AIDS Prayer Breakfast at the White House with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and National AIDS Policy Coordinator Kristine Gebbie on November 30, 1993. The President talked about Rev. Pieters in his World AIDS Day speech on December 1, 1993.
Rev. Pieters has received awards for his ministry in the AIDS crisis from the Board of Elders of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches; Evangelicals Together, Inc.; the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles; The Lazarus Project of the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church; and the West Hollywood City Council. In 1989 he received an Honorary Doctor of Ministry Degree from Samaritan College, the seminary of the Metropolitan Community Churches. In 1990, he received the prestigious Sheldon Andelson Award from the Stonewall Democratic Club, and the Sandra L. Robinson Award from Community Unity in Dayton, Ohio.
Rev. Pieters received an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in 2003, and subsequently worked as a psychotherapist for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center; Alternatives, Inc.; Teen Line; and the Westminster Counseling Center.
Reverend Pieters has been a singing member of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles since 1994. From 1994-99, he served on their Board of Directors, and as Chair of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles Board from 1997-99. With the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, he has performed in some of the great concert halls of the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York (in 1994 and 2019), Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Reverend Pieters has served as Staff Clergy at Founders Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles. He has traveled the world, teaching, preaching, and sharing his belief in God's healing and sustaining power while living with HIV/AIDS. Everywhere he spoke, he carried a fairy wand to teach about the importance of believing in fairies when so many good fairies were dying. It symbolized the importance of believing in ourselves enough to do the work of healing, whether that be healing into life, or healing into death.
In October 2019, examples of his work in AIDS Ministry and of his life as a person with HIV/AIDS were placed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Included in that collection is his fairy wand.
For General Audiences:
My Journey Through AIDS: A Living History
As a gay man with AIDS during a time with no life saving treatments, and when the government was not even talking about AIDS, Rev. Pieters's story is one of going from hopelessness to hope, and healing. He provides a personal and visceral insight into the AIDS epidemic, sharing many rich anecdotes from his journey, including:
— Being "Patient number 1" on the fist anti-viral drug trial to treat HIV and one of only two survivors of the trial.
— Facing multiple life threatening, stigmatizing illnesses.
— Surviving several near-death experiences
— Being the only person with AIDS to speak at the first Hollywood AIDS. fundraiser, hosted by Elizabeth Taylor.
— Volunteering as an AIDS Hospice Chaplain.
— Traveling all over the world bringing hope and inspiration to people with AIDS and their loved ones.
— Sharing with President Bill Clinton as one of twelve guests at the first AIDS Prayer Breakfast at the White House
— Singing and dancing with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.
— And much more
Rev. Steve Pieters, M.Div., M.A., D.Min. (hon.), AIDS survivor, activist and hospice chaplain, who is portrayed in the film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Sept. 2021), relates his recovery from AIDS, stage four lymphoma, and Kaposi’s sarcoma in the 1980s. His story is essentially a history of AIDS, having first been diagnosed eight months after the first published report on AIDS. At the time of his 1984 cancer diagnosis, his doctor, Alexandra M. Levine, MD, told him, “If one in a million will survive AIDS, why not believe you’re that one in a million and act accordingly.” So, he designed his own program of healing, and in his talk, he describes this program and how it helped him survive AIDS. His ten principles of survival were inspired by a 1987 study by George F. Solomon, M.D., et al, “An Intensive Psychoimmunologic Study of Long-Surviving Persons with AIDS.” * In his talk, he also discusses being patient number one on suramin, the first HIV/AIDS antiviral drug trial. One of two survivors of the trial, he describes the toxic side effects which nearly killed him. He tells stories of speaking at the first Hollywood fundraiser for AIDS, sitting with President Clinton at an AIDS Prayer Breakfast and volunteering as a chaplain at an AIDS hospice. After his years in AIDS ministry, he describes working for Playboy, singing and dancing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and donating his work in AIDS Ministry to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. His 1985 interview with Tammy Faye Bakker serves as an important turning point in the 2021 film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. The original interview is considered by historians to be a significant moment in the culture wars of the 1980s. Through it all, he insists on hope, joy, and lovingkindness. After forty years of living with AIDS, he proves, “I can still dance!”
*The Solomon study was published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Science: 496:647-655, 1987.
Topics For Healthcare Audiences:
A History of AIDS: Lessons from Both Sides of the Bed An AIDS Survivor and the Physician who Helped Save His Life A Conversation with Rev. Steve Pieters and Dr. Alexandra Levine
In this singular experience, Rev. Steve Pieters appears in a conversation with Dr. Alexandra Levine, presenting insights from their 40-year relationship as a physician and her AIDS patient. Dr. Levine was formerly Chief Medical Officer of City of Hope, Duarte, California, and Chief of Hematology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles County Hospital and Norris Cancer Hospital. She also served for several years on President Clinton's Task Force on AIDS. When Dr. Levine diagnosed Steve with AIDS/Kaposi's Sarcoma and stage four Lymphoma in 1984, there were no treatments. Dr. Levine challenged him to "do everything you can to create the conditions for medication to work when we find something," adding, "If one in a million end up surviving AIDS, why not believe that you will be that one in a million, and act accordingly?" A year later, in 1985, he became "patient number 1" on suramin, the first anti-viral drug trial to treat HIV. He took suramin for a total of 39 weeks. Within six weeks of treatment with suramin, both cancers went into complete remission. Due to toxic side effects, the drug was discontinued for use against AIDS. It is now 35 years later, and Rev. Pieters continues to enjoy a complete remission of his cancers.
Healing into Life & Healing into Death: Reflections of an AIDS Survivor and Hospice Chaplain Rev. Pieters discusses the work of healing, whether it be healing into life or healing into death. What is the meaning of healing in relationship to life-threatening illnesses? What does the work of healing into life entail? Why do some people survive catastrophic illnesses and others do not? How can medical professionals help a patient maintain hope when facing a potentially terminal disease? What does it mean to heal as one dies, and what does the work of healing into death entail? What is entailed in helping a patient work on their healing? Through personal anecdotes as both a patient and a hospice chaplain, he discusses the benefits of doing the work of healing as one approaches death, and how caregivers and medical health professionals can help a patient in that work. For any audience concerned about treating, working with, or caring for patients facing life-threatening illnesses. Inspired by the work of Stephen Levine, author of Healing into Life and Death.
The Role of Caregivers in Life-Threatening Illnesses Based on his own experiences as an AIDS survivor and a hospice and hospital chaplain, Rev. Pieters talks about what works and what doesn't work in a caregiver’s approach to patients with life-threatening illnesses. Pieters discusses how patients dealing with life-threatening illnesses often experience fear and anxiety in unfamiliar medical settings surrounded by a white-coated barrier of caregivers whom they don’t know. Steve will discuss ways to help caregivers reach out to patients in ways that are both compassionate and accessible. He describes the importance of offering and maintaining hope in the face of catastrophic illnesses and suggests that hope is important even to those facing death. How a caregiver can help patients remain hopeful is illustrated with stories, both negative and positive, demonstrating how helplessness and negativity leads to hopelessness, and mindfulness and doing the work of healing leads to hope.
For Faith-Based Audiences:
I Keep on Dancing: My Journey Through AIDS Rev. Pieters recounts his faith journey in living through AIDS in the 1980s and beyond. Two weeks after his terminal prognosis with AIDS and two deadly cancers in 1984, he delivered an Easter sermon in which he declared, “God is greater than AIDS.” He teaches that believing in the Resurrection enabled him to sing and dance and be fully alive, even in the face of death. He goes on to describe how his faith enabled him to heal back into life, as well as helping hospice patients to heal into death. Pieters discusses the calling to bring hope where there is hopelessness, and joy where there is suffering. He further describes his model for a ministry of presence, “Immanuel,” or “God with us.” Finally, he recounts his first near-death experience which taught him to be present in the moment, to be at peace, and to embrace the love we experience in life, because that is what is eternal.
Spiritual Strength for Survival Based on his pamphlet which inspired a support group of the same title, Rev. Pieters describes the ten principals of long-term survival of AIDS, and by extension other life-threatening illnesses. He illustrates each principle with examples from his own unlikely survival of AIDS in the 1980’s, as well as from his observation of others who survived well beyond their prognoses. Each principle is backed up by Scripture verses and theological concepts. He discusses how caregivers can help the people they care for to increase their chances of long-term survival and living well through the challenges they face. His ten principles of long-term survival are based on a 1987 study by George F. Solomon, M.D., et al, “An Intensive Psychoimmunologic Study of Long-Surviving Persons with AIDS,” published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Science: 496:647-655, 1987.
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE film trailer. Televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker's groundbreaking interview with gay AIDS patient Rev. Steve Pieters is a pivotal
The interview of Rev. Pieters by Tammy Faye Bakker is recreated in the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye starring Jessica Chastain.
Rev. Steve Peters recalls his groundbreaking 1985 interview with Tammy Faye, as an openly gay pastor with AIDS at at time with heavy stigmas.
Harvey Brownstone conducts an in-depth interview with Reverend Steve Pieters
On February 17, 1991, Jane Pauley interviewed Rev. Steve Pieters, as a gay pastor living with AIDS since 1982.
Jessica Chastain portrays Tammy Faye as she interviews Rev. Steve Pieters (portrayed by Randy Havens)