In 1985, when fear and homophobia were still driving much of the conversation surrounding AIDS, the Rev. A. Stephen Pieters, a gay pastor who had the disease, was a decidedly different voice.

That May, at the St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, Calif., presiding at a mass for people with AIDS attended by hundreds, he declared: “Rather than feel deserted by God, I have never been more sure of God’s love for me. God did not give me this disease. God is with me in this disease.”

That September, he spoke to The Los Angeles Times about the ostracism people with AIDS were encountering.

“Some people ask, ‘How is it different from cancer?’” he said. “Well, most people with cancer aren’t asked not to use the bathroom in a friend’s house or served dinner on paper plates. I’ve had more meals on paper plates in the last year than I’ve had in my whole life.”

One appearance he made that year had a particularly profound impact: In November 1985 he was