“People who are HIV-positive are getting their lives back.”
This honoree is certainly not missing. She played someone in the struggle in the most famous ER on television. More recently, she played a woman living with AIDS in need of Life Support, the story of fellow honoree Andrea Williams (played by Queen Latifah in the HBO film).
Network television viewers remember Gloria Reuben as Jeanie Boulet, the healthcare worker living with HIV/AIDS in the hit series ER. During her five-year run (1994-99), she garnered multiple Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nod. Quite notably, she insisted her character leave the show alive, not dead of AIDS. “When the storyline came about, triple cocktails were just being presented to the world,” she remembers. “Forty million people per week watching a storyline about how someone can live with the virus was a huge breakthrough.”
Offscreen, Reuben has put even more energy into aiding a variety of struggles. On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2004, Reuben was honored to introduce Kofi Annan at the U.N. AIDS Day ceremony at the renowned and beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in Harlem. “The international pandemic is still growing,” she says, speaking about the attention paid to AIDS in America. “We tend to forget about what’s going on in parts of our own Black community.”
The seemingly always busy Reuben handles many challenges at once. She advocates around the world for HIV/AIDS and human rights issues, and she’s more than excited about her new role as ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, partly because of the extraordinary leaps and bounds made on behalf of moms and newborns. “Spending time with the Foundation in South Africa has been nothing short of amazing,” she says. “Being a part of such a force is humbling.”
A native of Toronto, Reuben also focuses her energies in Canadian and Caribbean communities. “When it comes to HIV/AIDS, I spend a great deal of time trying to raise awareness and reduce stigma,” says Reuben. “Many times, these are people struggling with other life-threatening issues in addition to AIDS: low income, lack of basic fundamental human rights, lack of decent housing, no access to education or healthcare, or being tied up in the criminal justice system. I like to encourage them that the only way to break free is to be healthy.”
Reuben says her fictional roles as women with AIDS give her an added connection to the real-life women in the struggle. “Because of the characters I played,” she notes, “they see I’m not just a celebrity for whom this is a cause of the day.”
Testament to that fact is the story of how Reuben became involved in the film inspired by the life of fellow honoree Andrea Williams. While editing another project, Reuben ran into writer-director Nelson George, who happened to be casting Life Support. “He and I saw each other in the hallway quite often,” she recalls. “We walked into the building at the same time, rode up on the elevator together and he filled me in on the story, which is based on his sister, and Queen Latifah was playing the role. I was like, ‘Look, I gotta be in this movie. It’s way too important. It’s what I do. It’s no accident that we’re literally across the hall from each other.’”
In 2005, Reuben spoke at the Planned Parenthood introduction to their collaboration with the Rights Have No Borders project. She also joined Rights Have No Borders on a trip to Jamaica in March 2006 to promote and support awareness and education for HIV/AIDS and women’s healthcare issues. On World AIDS Day, 2005, Reuben was the keynote speaker at the first Black Women’s Conference on HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles. She’s also an Ambassador avid supporter of Artists for a New South Africa.
“It feels really nice,” she says with a shy laugh when asked of being honored as a hero, “but those words don’t begin to describe how overwhelming this feels, in a good way.”
In her spare time, Reuben has a diverse career in the entertainment world. Over the past decade, she has amassed an impressive list of credentials, including becoming a regular fixture on network television, roles in numerous films, a performance in a highly-touted off-Broadway production, singing backup on concert tour with Tina Turner, and releasing her debut solo record, “Just For You.”
To record her album, she split her time between a sixteen-hour-a-day schedule in Toronto, where she filmed her role in the dramatic series, 1-800-MISSING, and a recording studio in New York, where she made her CD. In addition, Reuben tacked on an Associate Producer credit on her show, and performed the series theme song, “This Dream Is Real,” which she co-wrote with veteran songwriter Andy Chase. The track also appears on her new CD.
Then there’s her vision for the future of AIDS in America: “I will do my best in whatever way possible to make sure that the next president will quickly and easily instill a national AIDS strategy.”
There’s nothing this talented woman can’t do. She aims to talk about AIDS wherever she goes. She sees a national AIDS strategy happening. She sees HIV tests becoming as routine and common as testing for cholesterol.
Believe in it. Gloria Reuben can do anything.