Jack Mackenroth | Sexy, Lovable & Valuable
by Herb Sosa
After a successful stint on Project Runway, Jack
Mackenroth exemplifies great achievement while
living with HIV. As he has done for the past 23 years,
he continues to excel in design, athletics, television
and most importantly, HIV activism. His openness &
honesty have inspired millions around the globe.
Project Runway was a pivotal time for you, basically
introducing you to a global audience overnight. Do you feel
you were prepared for the attention?
Not at all. As a fashion designer really had no aspirations of
becoming a public personality and during my season Project
Runway was at it's most popular. It was really bizarre to have
thousands of Facebook messages a day and people
stopping me on the street. It was all very overwhelming and
took a bit of getting used to.
Were you prepared to come out as HIV+ on the show? And
how was the response?
When I auditioned there is a very intense application process
and the producers knew about my HIV status. They asked if I
would be comfortable talking about it on the show and I had
no problem with it. I have been HIV positive since 1989 and I
have been totally out about it since 1995 so it was no big deal t
o me. I also knew it would be important for the world to see
someone living with HIV for many years who was healthy and
successful and not ashamed of my HIV. There had not been
any HIV role models on TV since Pedro Zamora from the
Real World and unfortunately he passed away in 1994. The
response was, and still is, amazing! I've been so lucky to
have helped so many people become more comfortable with
their status and I have been really touched by the personal
stories people have shared with me.
Fame and exposure has allowed you to venture in a lot of
directions, it has especially given you a platform. What is
the most important message you want to convey?
Now my HIV advocacy and education efforts are really focused on fighting the stigma associated with HIV and constantly talking about it.
Now if you are diagnosed with HIV the treatment options are amazing and very successful (in most cases) so the desperation of survival
that was so present in the 80s and 90s is not there. I feel the biggest issue now is that no one talks about HIV because you can "look
healthy" and go on with your normal life. That's great for many people but the problem is that as we sit quietly and act as if it barely exists
the stigma grows along with fear and lack of information. This prevents people from getting tested, from being honest with their partners
and physicians. This is why infection rates have not really decreased and have actually increased in the younger demographic and people
of color. The CDC estimates that in any major US city, approximately 1 in every 5 gay men is HIV positive and half of them DO NOT KNOW
they are positive. That is HUGE!!! 20 percent of the gay male population? Everyone should be talking about this. But people are scared
because it's uncomfortable and people still often think they are "the only one."
I think we need to take a new approach and start educating about how early treatment and maintaining an undetectable viral load greatly
reduces the risk of transmission. Studies show that the sooner you get on treatment the better for your immune system. So it's very
important to know your status and be proactive. When we break down the fear and myths about HIV everyone benefits.
Has this level of recognition and celebrity affected your personal relationships – Family? Friends? Loves?
Yes. Hahahah. It hasn't really affected my relationship with my family and friends but it has changed the way I interact with new people I
meet. I think because I was on a reality show and because I am very accessible on Facebook and Twitter people have preconceived ideas
of me. Interestingly I thought meeting "Mr. Right" would be much easier after appearing on TV but it's quite the opposite. I think people
assume I have a boyfriend or they are intimidated or don't want to bother me. Who knows. All I know is I'm single.
You are definitely a very handsome man, and have an incredible physique. How do you feel you have redefined what HIV looks like.
Was this “marketing” a deliberate plan, and why.
Thanks! I hope I have helped redefine what HIV 'can' look like. It was not a deliberate plan but I do think is is especially important for the
newly diagnosed to see that they can have a very bright future and live a long healthy life. I try to live by example. I also believe in overall
wellness. I work out regularly. I swim on a swim team. I take my vitamins and meds and check in with my doctor regularly. I can only be
myself. The fact that I look like I do and have lived with HIV for 23 years is a blessing. I do flaunt my sexuality and physicality because I think
that sends a powerful message in tandem with HIV education. We are still sexy, we are still lovable, we are still just as valuable with or
There is a lot of talk again
about new drugs and HIV
“cures”. What your take on
all of this, and does this help
or hinder the community.
I think it helps. Treatments are
getting better all the time and
talk of a cure is promising. After
Timothy Brown, the"Berlin
Patient", was cured of HIV by a
bone marrow transplant it
showed that HIV can be cured.
Figuring out how to do that for
everyone is the current
challenge but I believe it will
happen in my lifetime. In the
meantime it does not mean
we should become
complacent. A cure is probably
a LONG way off so we need to
be safe and anyone with HIV
should be maintaining an
undetectable viral load to
minimize risk. It's treatment as
prevention. And EVERYONE
should be tested regularly. It's
preposterous that so many
people do not know their
What has worked for you, in keeping you healthy? Traditional medicine, experimental, diet,
exercise, love? What advice do you have for someone who is HIV and not sure what path to
I went on medication very early- even though back in the early 90's there were not many options,
but I was lucky and responded well to treatment. Now the treatments are so much better with
little or no side effects. I take vitamins but nothing special. I try to eat healthy but I'm not perfect
and I pig out when I want but I balance a decent diet with a strong workout regimen. I don't drink
or do drugs. And I make sure to sleep enough. I also get my blood work done every 4 months
and make sure everything is OK. Until recently it was common to wait to go on medication until
your immune system was compromised but that is no longer the case. Medicating almost
immediately after diagnosis is the norm.
Since 1977 the FDA has had a ban on blood donation by gay & bisexual men. Mexico, the UK,
France, Italy & Russia have lifted this ban. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it's ridiculous. Then ban is antiquated and should be lifted. All blood is tested anyway.
How do you hope LGBT youth see you/Learn from you. Is this a responsibility, being a role
Yes it's a massive responsibility and I take it seriously. I hope people can learn that by letting go
of shame and embracing all of your unique qualities you can really be free to grow. This is not
just a message for people living with HIV. Specific to HIV, I encourage people to be open and
honest about their status. I know it can be difficult but trust me it makes you feel so much better.
Plus it helps break down the stigma for everyone.
What are, if any, the negatives of living your life so publicly.
Well it's a lot of responsibility. We all have rough days and there are times when I want to be
invisible. I can be a recluse sometimes to protect my sanity. But because there are so few
public personalities that are open about their HIV status I feel like it's my responsibility to be
vocal for those who can't.
You have received many awards, recognitions and accolades (so far) in your life. Which one
doyou hold dearest, and why?
Hmmmmm, I've received a lot of awards for swimming which I am very proud of because the
training requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication. I've also received some accolades for my
Twitter account which sounds corny but I only tweet jokes so I love it when someone
acknowledged that I'm funny. You can follow me @jackmackenroth. I think I'm proudest of being on POZ magazine's list of "Top 100 People
We Love" for my work in HIV.
I know you spend a lot of time in South Florida. How did a Seattle boy make his way to Miami Beach? What do you like about this place?
OMG I love Miami and Ft. Lauderdale! I have a place in South Beach and I go down there as much as possible. I just love the sun. Seattle
is a gorgeous city but I can't deal with the dreary weather. I have enough trouble in New York during the winter. South Florida is just so
relaxing and the pace of life is so different than New York.
Tell me my why the world needs another online dating site? Explain what makes Volttage.com
different & unique? (when did you start it, why, and how many members are you up to now)
Volttage.com is the dating site I launched on October 1st and we are currently up to about 5000 members and growing daily. It's aimed at
HIV positive men and those who feel stigmatized on other sites. One of the biggest issue for people living with HIV is disclosure in a dating
situation and general discrimination in the dating experience. On Volttage we don't ask HIV status. We assume everyone is HIV positive
which is what everyone should always assume anyway. It's provided a much needed alternative for poz guys. But beyond just dating I also
want Volttage to become a community for exchanging information and connecting in other ways so guys can feel included instead of
excluded. Eventually when we have tens of thousands of members it will be a really powerful site for providing information and bringing
together HIV positive men and their allies from around the world. It's free to join and our mobile app we be out later this year. And maybe it
will help me find a husband. I encourage everyone to check it out and please tell your poz brothers about us!!
A calendar, multiple TV appearances, magazine
covers, swimming medals, a dating website…
What should the world expect NEXT from
Well this year I decided to really focus on HIV
education and awareness so check me Facebook
page for speaking engagements around the country.
Volttage is taking up a lot of my time as I know
it will be an incredible tool for bringing HIv positive
men together and ultimately help fight the stigma by
empowering people to be more open about their
status because they feel included and part of a
bigger movement. I also want to write a memoir in
the next few years. Who knows? I'm open to any
You can follow jack on Twitter at
@jackmackenroth and find out more at
Jackmackenroth.com and Facebook
PHOTOS: West Phillips www.westphillips.com
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|Gracias|Thank You Celebrating 6 Years of
I hope people can
learn that by letting
go of shame and
embracing all of your
unique qualities you
can really be free to
This is not just a
message for people
living with HIV.
Specific to HIV, I
encourage people to
be open and honest
about their status.
I know it can be
difficult but trust me it
makes you feel so
much better. Plus it
helps break down the
stigma for everyone.
|We all have
rough days and
there are times
when I want to
I can be a recluse
there are so
are open about
their HIV status I
feel like it's my
be vocal for
those who can't.