You may remember Danny Roberts from The Real World: New Orleans back in 2000. He was the charismatic, handsome — and remarkably rational — gay man who inadvertently became a poster child for the movement against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned gays from openly serving in the military. Roberts was dating an officer and MTV obscured the boyfriend’s face so he wouldn’t be discharged as more than 1,200 servicemembers were that year.
Roberts more or less retreated from the public eye after his trip through the MTV reality machine. Now 41, he recently moved to New York City where he works as a digital design recruiter and is a father to an adopted 2 1/2-year-old girl. He is also living with HIV — something he’s revealing publicly for the first time exclusively to Entertainment Weekly.
“The reason I want to share this story is that I spent so long battling and beating myself up for my own misconceptions and bigotry,” he says. “It is difficult to admit the negative feelings you had about a set of people and state of being based on made-up stories.”
Roberts says he found out he was HIV positive around 2011. One weekend, he had passed out and woke up in a pool of blood. Concerned, he called his doctor and told him what had happened. The doctor had given him a check-up the previous week and knew Roberts was HIV positive but was planning on telling him in person the next day. Instead, he delivered the news to Roberts over the phone. “My first reaction was shock. Then I was angry, then lots of denial,” he says. “Those early years were very difficult and very lonely. You don’t know whom to turn to have conversation and people don’t know what to say. It’s not something that people have experience with,” he explains. “There’s also the potential likelihood of massive judgments about what behaviors led to this and what kind of people this happens to.”
The Georgia native is forthright, articulate, and introspective as he talks about living with HIV. He has obviously done an enormous amount of research and reflection. “The last thing I ever want is pity. I just want people to know and be aware. I knew so little myself so I get it.”
Fortunately, Roberts has been “undetectable” since his diagnosis, which means that a person’s viral load is so low it can’t be measured by a blood test and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the virus can’t be sexually transmitted from one person to another.
In recent years, there’ve been some terrific advances in combatting the disease, including a treatment called “PrEP,” which has proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV. “Medicine has come so far — it’s incredible where we are and where we could be not far in the future,” he says. In the meantime, he says living with HIV is like, “having a crappy old cell phone with a huge app eating your energy.”
Roberts says he’s thankful for the friends he has been able to lean on including his Real World costar Kelley Limp, who went on to marry actor Scott Wolf. The two are still very close. “She’s my life sister,” Roberts says. “She was one of the first people I turned to and talked to. She has been strong and helped me through this.”
During his time on the Real World (which MTV is rebooting and will stream on Facebook Watch), Roberts put a blurred face to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and in doing so taught the country about its adverse effects. Now, on the eve of World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), he wants to reignite discussion about a disease some assume has abated — even though almost 40,000 people in the U.S. receive HIV diagnoses each year. He also hopes to help others avoid the pain he endured. “I had so many negative feelings I was forced to face,” he says. “I’ve been on such a journey to overcome that. In a way, this has really been like my second coming out.”