This weekend we were stunned to find out that Danny Pintauro, the child star of Who’s the Boss for 8 years in the 1980’s, revealed to Oprah Winfrey on Friday that he has been HIV positive for 12 years. Danny chose to keep his diagnosis a secret for over a decade because he says that he just wasn’t ready to have what he knew would be a huge conversation about the issue, in addition to sharing something that was deeply personal about himself.
In 1997, Danny was a college student when the National Enquirer contacted him to inform him that they had uncovered his sexual orientation and that they planned to publish a story about it, whether he consented and participated or not. Pintauro was completely taken aback and it was only after counseling with his former Who’s the Boss costar, Judith Light, that he decided to participate in the publication of the story in an effort to shape the image that was reflected of him. The story turned out well, offering a positive spin on Danny’s sexual orientation, but the experience was nonetheless a touchstone of the media entering his private life.
Why Keep the Secret
Danny Pintauro is part of a large portion of individuals with HIV who chose to keep their diagnosis a secret, at least for a time. His situation is unique because he is a public figure, meaning that his coming out as HIV positive will have an affect on a wide breadth of individuals. However for every individual who is coping with an HIV diagnosis there is tremendous affect on their lives as the ramifications of sharing this highly charged medical issue can be severe in a society that does not understand it fully, even decades after the first cases. Another issue for anyone who is sharing a severe diagnosis like HIV is that disclosing this information to others involves admitting on oneself that the diagnosis, and all of the long term ramifications that are associated with it, are real (Flowers & Davis, 2013).
One thing that has really changed is that there are medications available today that can truly lengthen the life of individuals affected by HIV, leading to the ability to keep the secret for much longer than would have been possible previously. Where twenty years ago the progression of the disease was such that physical symptoms began to present themselves early in the process, advanced treatments today mean that an individual like Pintauro has the autonomy to hide the disease for an extended period as he did, while still maintaining an outward appearance that doesn’t rouse suspicion.
Cultural differences are a significant driver in the motivating reasons for not disclosing an HIV diagnosis. Various social groups have varying reactions to an individual with HIV, and these differences change the rate at which individuals are comfortable with and ready to share their diagnosis with others. Research published by Zea, Reisen, Poppen, Echeverry, & Bianchi (2004) explains that these differences are driven by social closeness, with Latino study participants more likely to share the information with close family and friends who were already aware of their sexual orientation and as well more likely to share with parental figures first, before sharing with friends. Exposing diagnosis to the wider community was significantly delayed. There is also the issue of parent to child sharing of a diagnosis of HIV, with parents being reluctant to share their diagnosis with their children until the disease begins to have outward signs (Murphy, Roberts, & Hoffman, 2002).
Disclosure to Significant Others
One issue that is separate in the case of Pintauro is the issue of disclosure to significant others and the disclosure to the public. There is a significant body of research on the reasons and motivations behind individuals disclosing their HIV status to their significant others (Derlega, Winstead, Greene, Serovich, & Elwood, 2004). This kind of disclosure is essential as there is an immediate effect on a partner when HIV is a factor. Pintauro’s case does not involve the disclosure to his significant other, but is rather about how an individual relates to the wider community and how they are able to find their place in it.
By disclosing his HIV diagnosis to the world at large, Pintauro has by default become a face of the disease in a modern age. His relative youth and status as a member of the millennial generation combined with his candor and relatability bring to the fore the continued importance of being vigilant about the spread of HIV, which has in the past several years become a background issue in society.
Capreto, L. (2015). 'Who's The Boss?' Star Danny Pintauro Reveals He Is HIV-Positive The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/danny-pintauro-hiv-positive_5602ffb9e4b08820d91b635a
Derlega, V., Winstead, B., Greene, K., Serovich, J., & Elwood, W. (2004). Reasons for HIV disclosure/nondisclosure in close relationships: Testing a model of HIV-disclosure decision making. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(6), 747-767.
Flowers, P., & Davis, M. D. (2013). Understanding the biopsychosocial aspects of HIV disclosure among HIV-positive gay men in scotland. Journal of Health Psychology,18(5), 711-724.
Murphy, D. A., Roberts, K. J., & Hoffman, D. (2002). Stigma and ostracism associated with HIV/AIDS: Children carrying the secret of their mothers' HIV+ serostatus. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 11(2), 191-202.
Zea, M. C., Reisen, C. A., Poppen, P. J., Echeverry, J. J., & Bianchi, F. T. (2004). Disclosure of HIV-positive status to latino gay men's social networks. American Journal of Community Psychology, 33(1), 107-116.