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AIDS United to launch Sean Sasser Endowment Fund to support healthcare of gay men of color

WASHINGTON – A new endowment fund created by AIDS United and honoring the memory of AIDS educator and activist Sean Sasser will be used to mobilize philanthropic and community support for programs improving health outcomes for gay men of color.

Sasser died Aug. 7, 2013 after a brief but intense battle with mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer. He had lived with HIV for 25 years.

The Sean Sasser Endowment Fund will be announced at the public memorial for Sasser on Sept. 21 in Washington, D.C.

The spouse of AIDS United president and CEO Michael Kaplan, Sasser had become an AIDS advocate at the age of 19, when the Navy rejected him after an HIV-positive test result. He caught the public’s attention in 1993 when his then-boyfriend Pedro Zamora, also an AIDS activist, starred in the groundbreaking season of MTV’s “The Real World San Francisco.”

After Zamora’s death, Sasser continued to speak out on AIDS, travelling to colleges and universities across the country. Sasser worked with several organizations during this time, including HIFY (Health Initiatives for Youth), GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, and the AIDS Alliance for Children Youth & Families, among others. He also served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, appointed by President Bill Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

“Gay men, and other men who have sex with men, represent the only group in the United States currently seeing a rise in new infections,” Kaplan said.

“Recent research suggests that a black gay man in many urban areas of the United States has a one in four chance of becoming infected with HIV by the age of 25. By the age of 40, he has a 60% of becoming HIV-positive,” he said.

“For us to turn the tide on this epidemic in this particularly vulnerable community, it is imperative that we mobilize and direct resources to programs that reach it. The Sean Sasser Endowment Fund honors Sean’s memory and his work by helping AIDS United do this.”

The public memorial, at which AIDS United will make the official announcement of the fund, will take place at 11 am Saturday, Sept. 21 at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. Scheduled speakers include:

• Judd Winick and Dr. Pam Ling, Zamora’s cast and housemates on the "Real World San Francisco," who became close with Sasser and Zamora both on and after the show;

• Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, who was both a professional and personal friend of Sasser;

• Douglas M. Brooks, chair of AIDS United’s Board of Trustees and member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, who will read a comment from the President about the administration’s commitment to addressing HIV-related disparities among gay men of color. Brooks will also make the announcement about the Sean Sasser Endowment Fund.

Sasser eventually stepped out of the public eye to become the successful and celebrated pastry chef he had dreamed of being.

“Sean touched countless people with his courage, his determination and his kindness,” said Kaplan. “As one of the first public faces of young gay black men with HIV, his legacy will live on through those served by the programs supported by the fund AIDS United has created in his name.”

To make a donation to the Sean Sasser Endowment Fund, visit HERE.