The Real World co-creator Jonathan Murray joined SiriusXM OutQ host and producer Xorje Andrés Olivares to discuss the breakthrough third season of MTV’s groundbreaking reality show. Exactly 20 years ago today, The Real World: San Francisco premiered, featuring the late Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American man who was one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be featured on television.

Murray says he and his partner, Mary-Ellis Bunim, made a conscious effort to include an HIV-positive cast member on the show’s third season.

“When we made the decision to go to San Francisco with the third season of The Real World, we realized we really needed to try and include someone, certainly who was gay, but then also maybe someone who was HIV-positive. At that time, it was just such an important issue on so many fronts. Not only as a health concern, but also as a civil rights issue.”

Both Murray and Bunim knew several people who died because of complications from AIDS, and this ultimately helped fuel their decision to seek an HIV-positive cast member for the San Francisco season.

“I really wasn’t concerned whether America was ready for [an HIV-positive cast member] … I had certainly in my own life had the experience of losing friends to AIDS. I personally felt it was important to — if we could cast someone with HIV — that we should do it. And Mary-Ellis Bunim, my partner, totally agreed with me. She had lost friends to AIDS. And the folks at MTV were very supportive, they had lost people to AIDS. So, I think all of us went in feeling this is something we should try and do.”

Murray notes how The Real World team decided to notify cast members that they would be living with an HIV-positive roommate and encouraged them to talk to their doctors about any concerns they had about living with someone who was HIV-positive.

“[MTV] felt that we should make the cast members aware that one of the cast members would be HIV-positive, and that they should speak with their own doctor and get any advice about this decision to live with someone who was HIV-positive. We knew at that point that AIDS was only transmitted by sexual contact so we weren’t really worried, but we felt and MTV felt that we should at least give people a heads-up so they don’t come in there and run for the doors … We communicated this [to cast members]. Most of them spoke to their personal doctors and all of them very much still wanted to be a part of the season.”

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