Jai Rodriguez: My Family's Struggle With HIV/AIDS

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and RENT star discusses his close relatives' battle with HIV/AIDS and the work he's doing to prevent and stop the spread of the disease nearly 20 years on.

by Jai Rodriguez

The year was 1996. My widowed aunt (who'd recently moved back to Long Island) was having the extended family over for Thanksgiving dinner.It was before saying grace that she disclosed that she and one of my two cousins were HIV positive.The whole family was in shock, but mostly we didn't understand the first thing about the still relatively new disease and what kind of care or medications they should receive.A year later my little cousin died.A few months later so did my aunt.

Upon graduating from high school, I was cast in the Broadway musical RENT playing the HIV-positive character, Angel.Obviously this character's story hit close to home for me.I started helping raise money with the show's annual fundraising drive with the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Five years later when I joined the cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy I was able to broaden my outreach and became a regular at events like AIDS WALK, APLA, R.E.A.F. and LIFE GROUP LA.My goal grew to not only raise awareness and funds for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, but to also help shed some of the stigma attached to the disease.

I've been honored over the years to work with other celebrities engaged around the cause, including Sharon Stone, who's worked tirelessly on her support of AIDS research. She joined Larry King in 2013 to talk about her work.

This Saturday I'll be riding in Saddle Up L.A., a horseback riding fundraiser for LIFE GROUP LA.They work tirelessly to help those in need infected and affected by this disease.

You can learn more about the event in the video below:

My aunt and cousin shouldn't have died for lack of proper care or medication.I hope to make sure others don't either.

We have come a long way but HIV infections are still on the rise.We have a lot of work still yet to do!

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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