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Jonathan Van Ness tells Jimmy Kimmel about HIV, speaking out, and how to take back America

Jonathan Van Ness, Jimmy Kimmel
Screenshot: Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness has gotten a lot of press since the release of his new memoir Over The Top, much of it focused on the book’s revelation that Van Ness has been HIV-positive since he was 25. And while speaking out about his status (plus some other equally distressing life events) has been an important process, Van Ness told Jimmy Kimmel on Monday that his book is about a lot more than that. “Actually, that’s, like, one tiny, baby line in this gorgeous, 288-page book,” stressed Van Ness, explaining that his hard-won present success as outlined in his book represents something much more inspirational. “It’s a story of my survival,” Van Ness told Kimmel with the irrepressible optimism and enthusiasm that’s made him not only a star, but now an advocate for people going through the things he has.

Kimmel noted how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently included her meeting with Van Ness (over the Equality Act, which would extend the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation) in a tweet that also packed in her call for an impeachment inquiry into the person who’s (among other asshole moves) worked to allow even more discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Van Ness, who also talked to Pelosi about the need to expand coverage for AIDS and HIV-prevention drugs to low-income people, shared a recent story where a forgotten bottle of his own medication found him shelling out $3,500 at a Philly CVS, something that, for people not flush with Netflix cash, is an impossibility. Explaining further how navigating the “4, 5, 6 layers” of the social safety net is an impediment to people living with HIV—or looking to avoid contracting the virus—Van Ness told Kimmel that, in writing his book, it was time for him to use his hard-won celebrity “to speak truth to power.”

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“You can really live a gorgeous, normal life,” said Van Ness of his HIV status, telling Kimmel that ending the stigma about living with HIV and STIs in general is part of his mission at this point. (He did also treat Kimmel to some of his personal beard oil in an attempt to spruce up the host’s look, proving that he’s still on the Queer Eye job full-time.) Noting that he’s also recently come out in support of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, Van Ness praised the Massachusetts Senator’s stance on the issues, and positions as educator, policy expert, and communicator, but he also admonished viewers to take deep breaths and keep their eyes on the big picture. “Anyone is better than who we have now,” said Van Ness, urging voters to support whichever candidate gets the Democratic nomination in order to restore some measure of sanity and decency to the country. He also stressed a more grass-roots approach to swinging the Electoral College, saying that, by speaking out about his own struggles with discrimination and bullying, perhaps some trickle-down kindness and understanding will make it so that young gay people won’t feel the need to flee their small towns like he did. Well, “statehood for D.C., and then kindness,” said Van Ness.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.