Former Chorus chair, remarkable AIDS activist dies at 70
In the spring of 1984, Steve Pieters accepted a daunting challenge.
The seminarian who came to us from New England had spent two years battling illnesses from strep to shingles to hepatitis, having ultimately realized that he suffered from GRID, which we know today as HIV. As he battled the effects of AIDS that spring, Steve was also diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer, and was told by his practitioner that he had about eight months to live. Yet the same physician challenged Dr. Pieters to defy the odds. If one in a million survived AIDS, she asked, why shouldn’t he be the one?
On Sunday, some forty years after a seemingly terminal diagnosis, our dear friend Steve passed away at the age of 70, leaving a powerful legacy impossible to understate.
“There was no one like Steve Pieters,” said GMCLA Executive Director Lou Spisto. “Our lives were made better by what Steve did with his time on earth. He lifted us all. He fought so hard and for so long, for his life and for all of ours, that this seems unreal. He will never be gone though, as his spirit will be with us always and his impact will live on.”
Designated “Patient 1” as a pioneer in the initial global fight against HIV, Steve was the first to undergo experimental retroviral drug treatment at a time when such therapy was considered trial and error. He served on countless task forces here in Los Angeles and beyond, conveying messages of faith, hope, and inspiration as the nation struggled to understand HIV/AIDS. Most notable was a 1985 appearance on live television with Tammy Faye Bakker, the famed Christian televangelist who rose to prominence alongside her husband, Jim. Bakker shocked many conservative viewers with her empathetic, compassionate demeanor toward a religious gay man living with AIDS.
“I’ve heard from so many people throughout the years, people who were transformed by that interview,” he told National Geographic last year. “Their attitudes changed, their beliefs and theology changed because of it… It really rocked the conservative Christian world.”
In 1994, Steve joined the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus and generously served on the Board of Directors from 1994-1999, including two years as the Board chair. He performed with the Chorus at some of the nation’s most prolific concert venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York and the Walt Disney Concert Hall here in Los Angeles. Last summer, we were honored to present Steve with the Humanitarian Voice Award as part of the GMCLA Annual Gala.
“I’m so glad we had the opportunity to honor Steve publicly last August,” Lou Spisto added. “GMCLA is a stronger, more beautiful organization because Steve chose to make us a part of his super-sized life mission.”
After his tenure with GMCLA, Steve remained tireless and active in our community. He devoted much of his time to providing psychotherapy services at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center after earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in 2003.
In his conversation with National Geographic in 2022, Steve perhaps echoed the sentiments of his own physician many years prior, a lasting reminder to us all that anything is possible. “If I could survive AIDS, back at a time when there were no treatments,” he said, “then why not believe that you can survive whatever you’ve been diagnosed with that the doctors say is going to kill you?”
Services will be announced at a later date. Steve’s forthcoming memoir, LOVE is Greater Than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Hope, is due to publish early in 2024.