Dining Out for Life is an annual dining fundraising event raising money for AIDS service organizations. Dine out and Fight AIDS this Thursday, April 24th. Find a restaurant near you www.diningoutforlife.com
Mondo Guerra took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about Dining Out for Life and his experiences coming out as HIV positive on national television.
What made you choose to become a spokesperson for Dining Out for Life?
It is all part of the story. I had been attending Dining Out for Life (DOFL) for years here in Denver. Getting on the show, Project Runway Season 8, and revealing my HIV positive status upon leaving the show I really such amazing support from the community and that really encouraged me to take a bigger step and really become an advocate for HIV. It just so happens that Subaru reached out to me last year and we got the ball rolling so this is my second year as spokesperson.
As a spokesperson do you still attend or host events for Dining Out for Life?
Yes, definitely. Last year it was really nice that Subaru came here to Denver for my first year. We had a huge party at one of the new restaurants. So it was really amazing because not only was it my first year but it was here with my family. We had a huge table with all of my family and had a lot of fun. It was nice to be able to participate in my home city but also know that all the funds we raised in Denver were staying in Denver. That is one of the wonderful things about DOFL is that the funds stay in the communities. We have two new cities this year Orlando and Raleigh. We are expecting to raise more than 4 million dollars this year with over 3000 restaurants in 60 cities across the country.
What was it like coming out as HIV positive on television?
It was just the course of the day. The challenge that was set up on Project Runway really stirred up some emotions for me. My Mom showed up in that episode and it was just a coincidence that I had designed this textile around something that was so personal to me and something that I hadn’t talked about. You know a lot of people ask me if I was planning on talking about it. No, I wasn’t, it really did happen organically. I knew in my heart that I had to speak about it because I had applied this secret and emotional content around my work and something that I was very proud of. I kept thinking that if I don’t share the truth behind my work that I am not really an artist. That would defy everything that I ever worked for and everything I ever dreamt of since I was a child. Creativity has always been my lifeline. In a lot of ways it has been my only lifeline for many years. I couldn’t deny myself the opportunity to really appreciate and celebrate the truth behind my work. That why I talked about it. I guess, it was a lot easier for me because I didn’t really expect to talk about it. I will say that after I did talk about it that day and that evening it really did scare for I guess for lack of a better word as to what the response would be. When the episode aired, it completely blew my mind with how many people reached out and were being supportive. I really realized at that point that my story is very relatable on different levels. It isn’t an issue about HIV, it’s about letting go and really honoring your truth. A lot of people shared their own personal stories with me. It was everything from being abused as a child to having a miscarriage. All these things that people didn’t want to talk about. But when they saw me talk about my story they were able to have a conversation with someone that they trusted. It was really amazing for me to be able to read everybody’s story.
Did your family and friends know about your status before it was announced on Project Runway?
No, they didn’t. I didn’t really tell my parents until three days before the episode aired. I told them at the dinner table and it was very inspiring for me. I really underestimated how supportive and understanding they could be. My mom just told me that she was proud of me for talking about my status. She also hoped that my story would encourage other people as well. She was so supportive.
Would you offer any advice to other people out there in the same situation?
As I get older year by year and realizing that I have been HIV positive for 13 years but only really talking about it for 3 years. This is all part of a journey and for me now, I think that if I had been able to seek out the support from people that I trusted and loved I wouldn’t have gotten as sick as I did. It is really important for you to surround yourself with people you trust and people you know are going to support you. It is not just being responsible and having these open dialogues with your doctor but also your social life and just your everyday life. It becomes a part of your life and it is important to go in with intention. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Dining Out for Life is an amazing fundraiser once a year. What else do you think people should be doing in our communities the rest of the year?
I think it is really important for people just to step out and participate in the community. Every day is an opportunity to help.
Is there a message you would like to send to LGBTQ youth?
I feel like every day is an opportunity to empower yourself and to honor your truth, whatever that is. It has to be 100% or it’s nothing at all. You have all the power in the world because you live your life within that story and that journey. That is a lot of power.
Keep up with Mondo Guerra at www.mondoguerra.com
Keep up with Earle Dutton at Equality365