‘Real World: New Orleans’ Danny Roberts Reflects on Love, Life and HIV Stigma

For a generation of homosexuals, Danny Roberts is an indisputable icon.

In 2000, the Georgia native was one of seven housemates to appear on MTV’s “The Real World: New Orleans” and seemingly overnight became a public face for the LGBTQ rights movement. At the time, he was a 22-year-old college graduate learning to embrace his truth as a gay man. He was also in a relationship with Army Captain Paul Dill, whose full name and face could not be revealed on air due to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy which openly prohibited LGBTQ people to serve in the military. 1994 to 2011.

Roberts, now 44, returned to television this week for “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans.” The third season of the unscripted spin-off series, which premiered on Paramount+ Wednesday, sees him reunite with housemates Melissa (Howard) Beck, David “Tokyo” Broom, Jamie Murray, Matt Smith, Julie Stoffer and Kelley (Limp) Wolf. in the Big Easy for a second chance to “stop being polite and start getting real,” as MTV’s original tagline stated.

(Watch the trailer for “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” above.)

Left to right: Michelle, Julie and Danny in ‘The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans’, now airing on Paramount+.

Akasha Rabut/MTV ENTERTAINMENT

As excited as viewers may be to catch up with the “New Orleans” cast, Roberts said it took “a lot of talking and thinking” to commit to the project.

“It never occurred to me that this show would be revisited this late in the game,” he told HuffPost. “Most of my actors hid that as a memory and moved on. Looking back on that time is fun and exciting, but it also brought me back to some things that were best left in the past. It was a lot of anxiety and apprehension. »

“None of us, as individuals, are people who thrive on drama or seek it out,” he added. “Our goal was the opposite: just come to New Orleans and catch up with old friends. Most of us hadn’t seen each other in 20 years.

Except that’s not exactly how it happened – as is the case with most reality TV programs. In the first two episodes, tension erupts between Beck, Roberts, and Stoffer involving an alleged homophobic letter that Stoffer wrote shortly after the original series ended, “painting (Roberts) as a ‘dangerous homosexual’.”

Many viewers were particularly interested in the third episode, when Roberts reunited with Dill for the first time since the couple ended their relationship in 2006. The split, he said, was not amicable .

"America was much more homophobic back then," said Roberts, pictured here in 2000. "Obviously, there are still plenty of those, but it was widely accepted to be vocally homophobic at the time."
‘America was much more homophobic back then,’ said Roberts, pictured here in 2000. ‘Obviously there’s still a lot, but it was widely accepted to be vocally homophobic back then. ”

J.Vespa via Getty Images

“I remained co-dependent in that relationship for many reasons other than my own,” Roberts recalled. “I felt called to a higher purpose because it was seen by many as an ideal. I can now look back and realize that I just didn’t want to let people down.

Ultimately, he came to view the reunion as a “little gift” that gave them both a late closing.

“After sitting down and talking, I think it became very clear that what happened at the time that was negative was not about either one or the other, but society and what ‘she made us at the time,” he said. “It helped me let go of some of the animosity that I still held deep inside. We pitted so many outside factors against each other, and that’s a shame. America was a lot more homophobic Obviously there are still a lot of those, but it was widely accepted to be vocally homophobic at the time.

Throughout the series, Roberts also opens up about his HIV diagnosis, which he publicly revealed in a 2018 interview with Entertainment Weekly. He found out he was HIV-positive in 2011 when he visited his doctor for a regular checkup. Accepting the reality of his situation was like a “second coming out”.

"It never occurred to me that this show would be revisited so late in the game," said Roberts.
“It never occurred to me that this show would be revisited so late in the game,” Roberts said.

Akasha Rabut/MTV ENTERTAINMENT

“Given the circumstances of my life at the time, it didn’t make sense,” he explained. “It was the last thing on my radar, so it was a huge shock. You go through stages of grieving ― grieving your healthy old man ― and realize you are now being held captive by the healthcare system. whack of America. Your life depends on a failing system, it’s scary.

“There is shame and stigma that you have to overcome, even to this day,” he added. “It’s a very interesting time, where like half the population is really informed and understands what it means to be positive and treated today. The other half is still trapped in the 1990s, and they still see a moral punishment. So overcoming a lot of these old blockages is a huge journey, and I felt super alone on this journey.

Roberts currently works as a tech recruiter and has a 5-year-old daughter, Naya, whom he adopted with an ex. He moved from New York to Vermont at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and soon after began dating his current boyfriend, Austin.

“I think reality TV does something really negative for a lot of people who participate in it. The current situation as a nation is largely the result of that. Donald Trump was our president because of reality TV – let’s not forget that.”

– Danny Roberts, star of “Real World Homecoming: New Orleans”

“You can probably fit the whole LGBTQ population of Vermont on a big bus,” he said with a laugh. “Amazingly, I met a dairy farmer who lives 15 minutes from my house. Sometimes in life, you have to believe that the universe is in action.

Regarding the positive answer that “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” has received so far, Roberts attributes most of it to old-school nostalgia. Filming the new series, he said, was mostly “redemptive” and gave him a renewed perspective on his reality TV fame. Still, he’s suspicious of how the format has evolved in the years since the original series.

“Overall the experience was positive, but it’s a fine line. I think reality TV does something really negative to a lot of people who participate in it. Where we are as a nation right now is largely the result of that. Donald Trump was our president because of reality TV, let’s not forget that.

“The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” is streaming now on Paramount+.

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