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On This Gay Day | Television show ER put HIV at the centre of its storytelling

Medical drama ER was a huge hit with audiences when it made its debut in 1994. The show would go on for 5 seasons making it one of the longest running television drama series at the time.

During the show’s second season in 1995 it featured a story about HIV which is credited in bringing much greater public awareness to the fact the virus affects people from all walks of life, while also showing the realities of people living with HIV at a time when drug regimens were giving people new hope.

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Actor Gloria Reuben joined the show during its first season playing Physician’s Assistant Jeanie Boulet. Her character was involved in an adulterous affair with one of the show’s doctors Peter Benton played by Eriq La Salle.

When the second season aired Reuben was promoted to being a regular member of the cast. In the show Jeanie Boulet was married to philandering husband Al Boulet. As the second series progressed it was revealed that Al was HIV positive, leaving Jeanie and Peter to wonder if they too had contracted the virus.

At this stage Al and Jeanie had been separated for some time and Jeanie’s affair with Peter had also ended. But as the characters learned, and the audience did too, HIV can be in a person’s system for many years before any symptoms show.

At the beginning of the shows third season, we discovered that Jeanie’s results had come back positive, while Peter’s were negative. Gloria Reuben continued to play the character until the show’s sixth season providing a rare portrayal of a person living with HIV on primetime television.

The character also made a guest appearance during the show’s fourteenth season showing she was still going strong, and had adopted a child too.

The episode Take These Broken Wings which began the HIV related storyline first aired on this day in 1996.

Rueben has gone on to appear in many TV series including Falling Skies, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mr. Robot, Blindspot, City on a Hill, and The Equalizer. She’s currently appearing in Elspeth, the Paramount Plus series that’s a spin-off of The Good Wife and The Good Fight.

Michael Beach who plated husband Al Boulet is currently portraying a Walrus trapped in a human body in Dead Boy Detectives. After his stint on ER he played Monte Parker on Third Watch and T.O. Cross on Sons of Anarchy.

Eriq La Salle has regularly appeared on television in many shows including Without a Trace, Under the Dome, Covert Affairs and 24. Nowadays though you’re most likely to see him listed as a director. His credits include The Librarians, Chicago PD, Law and order, Lucifer, CSI: Cyber and Madam Secretary. He’s also recently written a novel.

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