Stephen Pieter, who shifted views on AIDS in a single interview, dies at 70

Stephen Pieter, who shifted views on AIDS in a single interview, dies at 70

Deep into the AIDS disaster in October 1985, a distinguished Los Angeles minister named Stephen Pieters traveled to a tv studio for a satellite-link interview that his pals begged him to keep away from.

On the opposite finish was the Pentecostal televangelist Tammy Faye Bakkerof the Charlotte-based PTL Tv Community. Then at her peak, with greater than 13 million viewers, she and her broadcaster husband, Jim, held nice sway with conservative Christian followers whose beliefs have been seen as sharply at odds with the homosexual group and AIDS sufferers resembling Rev. Pieters.

“It will wreck my popularity as a liberal homosexual activist preacher,” Rev. Pieters, who died July 8 at 70, recalled being instructed. However the 25-minute section grew to become a watershed in public perceptions about AIDS. Rev. Pieters additionally emerged as an eloquent and nationally famend spokesman for these going through AIDS, which on the time was thought-about not solely a possible loss of life sentence but in addition put sufferers at excessive danger for experiencing disgrace and humiliation.

The interview, nonetheless, virtually didn’t occur. When he was approached by producers for the present “Tammy’s Home Get together,” Rev. Pieters supplied to return to the Charlotte studio. Bakker’s crew despatched airplane tickets, however then known as to cancel.

Rev. Pieters typically spoke to the media in Los Angeles at out of doors venues to mitigate worries of shut contact at a time when many individuals had questions on how HIV was unfold. With the Bakker interview, he believed that the crew didn’t need him within the constructing. An settlement was made for the satellite tv for pc hyperlink. He noticed the present as an opportunity to debate AIDS and spirituality earlier than an viewers he would usually by no means encounter.

To his shock — braced for the likelihood she would “pounce” on him over his sexuality — Bakker confirmed empathy from the start. She requested about Rev. Pieters’s path to popping out, and he talked about his spiritual religion. She raised the general public’s dread and misunderstandings of AIDS.

Did some folks even concern “to breathe the identical air you breathe?” she requested.

“Sure, Tammy, that occurs. I used to be requested to not use the toilet in any person’s home,” he mentioned. “I bear in mind going to a celebration as soon as the place each time I completed my mushy drink the host took the glass to the kitchen … and steam cleaned it.”

Close to the tip of the interview, Bakker seemed into the digital camera. “How unhappy that we as Christians, who’re to be the salt of the earth and are supposed to have the ability to love everybody, are afraid so badly of an AIDS affected person that we’ll not go up and put our arms round them and inform them that we care,” she mentioned.

The studio viewers applauded. It introduced reward but in addition fierce denunciations from the spiritual proper. (The interview was 18 months earlier than Princess Diana made world headlines in 1987 for visiting AIDS sufferers.)

“Your braveness in doing this interview is bringing me to life,” Rev. Pieters mentioned on the finish of the interview. “It’s giving me life.”

Bakker, in a single act of outreach, shattered the idea that every one evangelicals have been enemies of gays and lesbians and started her transformation as one of many few distinguished figures from Bible Belt TV looking for connections to the LGBTQ+ group.

“It actually rocked the conservative Christian group and type of rocked the homosexual and lesbian group as effectively,” mentioned Rev. Pieters.

The interview and its cultural fallout have been launched to a brand new era in 2021 with the movie, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” starring Jessica Chastain in an Oscar-winning efficiency as Bakker and Randy Havens as Rev. Pieters. In October 2022, the musical “Tammy Faye” opened in London with songs composed by Elton John, and with the Bakker-Pieters interview as one of many pivotal scenes.

“I’ve had any variety of folks come as much as me by means of the years and say that my interview with Tammy Faye saved their lives or helped them to appreciate they could possibly be homosexual and Christian,” Rev. Pieters told the Guardian in 2021, “and it turned them round and made them understand they needed to come out.”

Rev. Pieters’s personal well being struggles grew to become sources of hope and medical examine. He was “affected person No. 1” in 1985 for an anti-viral drug, suraminto deal with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Suramin was deserted for therapy due to excessive toxicity. However Rev. Pieters’s 39-week trial supplied insights into antiretrovirus therapywhich grew to become the usual therapy for HIV.

Medical doctors gave Rev. Pieters a grim prognosis in 1984 when he developed Kaposi’s sarcoma, pores and skin lesions typically linked to HIV an infection, and stage-four lymphoma. “I wouldn’t see 1985,” he recalled as one physician’s prediction. The Kaposi’s and lymphoma went into remission throughout the suramin trial, however his general well being nonetheless fluctuated wildly over the a long time.

By the late Eighties, Rev. Pieters had stabilized sufficient to renew roles together with subject director for the AIDS ministry on the Common Fellowship of Metropolitan Group Church buildings within the Los Angeles space. He joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles within the bass part, performing in New York, Moscow and different locations till current years.

In 1990, he appeared as himself within the play “AIDS US/II” in Los Angeles. Three years later, Rev. Pieters was a visitor on the first AIDS Prayer Breakfast on the White Home, hosted by President Invoice Clinton.

“I’ve been amazed at how these 25 minutes I spent with Tammy Faye have reverberated … greater than virtually the rest I’ve carried out,” Rev. Pieters as soon as mentioned.

Albert Stephen Pieters was born in Lawrence, Mass., on Aug. 2, 1952, and raised in close by Andover, the place his father was chairman of the arithmetic division at Phillips Academy.

Rev. Pieters graduated from Phillips and acquired a bachelor’s diploma in speech at Northwestern College in 1974. Two years later, he joined the Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Group Church in Chicago and started a profession in ministry.

He acquired a grasp’s in divinity diploma in 1979 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He then grew to become pastor of the Metropolitan Group Church of Hartford, Conn., and started packages for the homosexual group. (He acquired a grasp’s diploma in scientific psychology from Antioch College in 2003.)

In April 1982, Rev. Pieters started experiencing the signs of what’s now referred to as HIV. He resigned from his place in Hartford and moved to Los Angeles.

A number of months after the Bakker interview, Rev. Pieters was once more severely ailing. “I went blind, and I wasted away to nothing,” he recalled on the BBC podcast “Issues Fell Aside.” He mentioned he listened to a music on Bakker’s 1985 album “Tammy” known as “Don’t Give Up (On the Brink of a Miracle).”

Later that 12 months, he was the featured speaker on the first AIDS Mission Los Angeles profit. His writings embody two memoirs“I’m Nonetheless Dancing” (1991) and “Love is Better Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Therapeutic, and Hope,” scheduled to be printed subsequent 12 months.

Survivors embody a brother, mentioned a household spokesman, Harlan Boll, who introduced the loss of life. Rev. Pieters died at a hospital in Los Angeles from an an infection.

Rev. Pieters by no means met Tammy Faye Bakker in individual. (Jim Bakker was convicted in 1989 of crimes associated to illegally steering donations to pay for the couple’s lavish way of life; they divorced whereas he was in jail.)

Rev. Pieters did, nonetheless, develop into pals with the Bakkers’s son, Jay. He as soon as described to Rev. Pieters how his mom took half in a Pleasure parade, the place she broke right into a Christian music.

She had all of them singing alongside,” Rev. Pieters mentioned, “and I might have cherished to have seen that.”

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