When “ER” producers were looking for a candidate to take on the role of one of mainstream television’s first HIV+ women of color, they found their star in a Canadian performer named Gloria Reuben. Reuben began as a guest star, making appearances as physician assistant Jeanie Boulet. Audiences were immediately drawn to Boulet’s compelling storyline, and Reuben quickly made the transition to core cast member. In line with the show’s documentary ethos, Reuben portrayed her character as realistically as she knew how, drawing on intimate personal experiences to guide her performance.
“There was someone very close to me who was HIV positive,” Reuben explained. “This story of Jeanie Boulet germinated from this person’s story – how this particular person was living his life with a great deal of dignity.”
Audiences stood by Boulet through her many life experiences, including a lost marriage, a variety of health scares, workplace disputes and even the adoption of an orphaned HIV+ child, Carlos. By the time Reuben decided to leave “ER” in season six, her character had made a profound and lasting impact on television’s depiction of HIV+ characters. When Reuben returned to guest star in a special season fourteen episode, “ER” audiences welcomed her back with open arms.
Gloria Reuben, AIDS Activist
Before her role as an HIV+ physician assistant on the hit medical drama, “ER,” Gloria Reuben didn’t consider herself an activist. However, after spending the better part of six years as Jeanie Boulet, television’s most recognizable HIV+ character, Reuben found herself deeply changed by the experience. The show’s diverse audience echoed Reuben’s newfound awareness.
“There is this young man who came up to me in a drugstore once,” Reuben recalled a memorable off screen moment during her time on the show. “He said, ‘Excuse me. I don’t mean to bother you.’ And I turned to him and he said, ‘Hello… I just want to let you know that I’m HIV positive and that I saw the show last night.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to start getting treatment today.’ Because of what he saw on the show.”
Realizing her potential as a public figure, Gloria Reuben entered into a new life as an AIDS activist, lobbying for increased advocacy and speaking at several major fundraising events. Reuben continues to act on high profile television shows and movies, and uses her position as a celebrated personality to educate audiences on these important issues.