Love is Greater than AIDS: A Memoir of Survival, Healing, and Hope is Rev. A. Stephen Pieter’s inspiring story of surviving AIDS and the notorious Suramin antiviral drug trial to lead a life of ministry, celebrity, LGBTQ+ and AIDS activism, and hope.
The story begins with Pieters’ 1985 interview with Tammy Faye Bakker on her TV show, Tammy’s House Party, which made him a national celebrity and spokesperson for the AIDS community.
He reflects on his childhood and college years, leading up to his coming out story. Soon after, he responds to a call to the ministry by attending seminary and then serving in Metropolitan Community Churches, a primarily LGBTQ+ denomination.
In the late 1970s, Pieters became the gay activist pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, Connecticut. There he helped settle gay Cuban refugees from the Mariel boat lift, and aided police investigations of the murders of two gay men.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1982, Steve then experienced a long series of illnesses that led to his diagnosis with stage four lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and AIDS in 1984. He was not expected to survive, but he defied his prognosis and became a well-known AIDS activist, participating in several AIDS organizations in Los Angeles and across the country. He spoke on behalf of people living with AIDS at both the first AIDS Walk in the world, and at Elizabeth Taylor’s Commitment to Life event, the first film and television industry fundraiser for AIDS. He also become Patient Number One on Suramin, the first antiviral drug trial to treat HIV/AIDS. Although his cancers go into complete remission, the drug very nearly kills him. Steve is one of only two survivors of that notorious drug trial.
Having fully recovered from AIDS by 1987, Steve made AIDS ministry his life. For the next eleven years he traveled the world, preaching and teaching about AIDS and giving hope and joy in the face of all the hopelessness and grief. Knowing what it’s like to be on a death bed, he volunteered as a chaplain at the Chris Brownlie AIDS Hospice, where he discovered his gift for helping people heal into their deaths.
Thanks to advances in treatment, HIV disease became a manageable condition in 1997. Realizing he was burned out on ministry, and with AIDS social services agencies all downsizing, Pieters began to work for, of all places, Playboy, becoming close friends with Christie Hefner He then describes how the stress and grief of the AIDS years manifested itself in addiction issues. After he began to recover, he had a brief career as a psychotherapist. He experienced brushes with death in 2012, describing how dancing in the spirit and singing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles helped him stay alive through it all.
In the years that followed, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History invited Pieters to donate his AIDS ministry artifacts and papers.
The 2021 feature film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, starring Academy-Award winner Jessica Chastain, includes part of Steve’s 1985 interview with Tammy Faye Baker, a pivotal turning point in the movie, brings his memoir full circle. His remarkable life, which ended in 2023 at the age of 70, is proof that love is indeed greater than AIDS.
The Rev. Dr. A. Stephen Pieters (1952-2023) was a long-term survivor of AIDS. Diagnosed with Gay-Related Immune Deficiency in 1982, and AIDS/Kaposi's Sarcoma and stage four Lymphoma in 1984, he was told he would not survive to see 1985. His remarkable story of full recovery serves as an inspiring example of healing and hope. Best known for his 1985 interview with Tammy Faye Bakker on Tammy's House Party, he is featured in the 2000 documentary, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and he is portrayed in the 2021 feature film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. The grandson of two of the first missionaries to Korea, Rev. Pieters received his Bachelor of Science in Speech from Northwestern University in 1974. He attended McCormick Theological Seminary, the same seminary as his missionary grandfather, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1979. Ordained by the Metropolitan Community Churches, a primarily LGBT denomination, he served as their Field Director of AIDS Ministry during the worst years of the AIDS crisis. He received an honorary Doctor of Ministry degree from Samaritan College in 1989, and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in 2003. He sang in the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus for many years. His artifacts and papers from his AIDS ministry is part of the LGBT collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Prologue: How Did I Ever Get to This?
Chapter 1: Out at Last and Called by God
Chapter 2: But Do I Have AIDS?
Chapter 3: Creating Conditions for Healing
Chapter 4: A Drug Trial and a Partner
Chapter 5: A Renewed Commitment to Life
Chapter 6: Building an International AIDS Ministry
Chapter 7: Into the Spotlight
Chapter 8: A Cocktail Changes Everything
Chapter 9: Return to the Land of the Sick
Chapter 10: Back to Life
Epilogue: Bright Lights and a New Challenge
About the Author
With heart-rending candor, Steve Pieters shares his own struggles with homophobia, AIDS and addiction. Yet this most personal of stories also reflects the journey of many, many Americans, and indeed of the country itself. And ultimately it is a story of faith and survival, both deeply moving and tremendously uplifting. For those of us fortunate enough to have shared Steve’s journey, we know he is now tap dancing with the angels.
In this powerful memoir Steve Pieters reflects on his decades on the frontline of the war on AIDS, and the PTSD that any war can trigger. Yet, his hopeful and joyful approach to life shines brightly throughout, just as it did when we first met in seminary so many years ago.
What a story! Steve Peters lived through several pandemics, and lived to tell us what it was like, being a member of the clergy, and his journey of having to educate millions of people of his journey, through the horrors of HIV/AIDS. He was the first person ever invited by the religious right, much to their chagrin, to defend his faith on an international TV program. I cannot do justice to Steve’s book—such an incredible story of surviving and faith.
What a unique, inspiring, and amazing story Steve has to share, but his life has always been about sharing and taking any circumstance and finding the gift hidden inside. It is said: to those who are given much, much will be expected. Steve was given much in the way of challenges but always looked at the greater picture. His faith was stalwart and those who were lucky enough to be his friend are forever changed by him. When you read his story, you too will be changed.
What can you say about a guy who donated his fairy wand to the Smithsonian Museum? Prepare to meet my friend Steve Pieters, one of the most unusual and fascinating people I’ve ever known. Mark Twain said, 'The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.' Steve Pieters definitely did not fear death. Or much of anything else. As a result, he was able to live more fully than almost any human being I’ve ever met. His life was all about overcoming fear – fear of being gay, fear of being his authentic self, fear of being alone, fear of rejection, fear of getting sick, fear of confronting reality without drugs or alcohol—and he overcame every single one of these fears, one after the other. He embraced God and other humans fully with love and joy and without judgement and in so doing, finally learned to embrace himself. And what started out for him as simply a basic struggle to fight death, turned in to a crazy celebrity studded adventure of life. He finally learned that the words he told Tammy Faye were true for him as well: 'God loves you—just the way you are.' I think you’ll come to love my friend Steve too, just as much as I did.
Of Steve Pieters, a better poet John Donne, in his Holy Sonnets said it best: "I am thy sonne, made with thy selfe to shine / Thy servant." Not even the devil AIDS could stop this son from serving, from shining.