The reality star says he's glad he went public with his diagnosis

By Steve Helling
Updated October 29, 2014 11:25 AM
Cliff Lipson/CBS

When Big Brother winner Dick Donato decided to go public with his HIV-positive status earlier this month, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

After all, Donato was best known as “Evel Dick,” a reality-TV villain. “We’ll see what people have to say about it,” he told PEOPLE at the time. “Everyone will have an opinion.”

As it turns out, the public has embraced Donato, who is currently appearing on Couples Therapy.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” he tells PEOPLE. “Absolutely fantastic.”

Donato has been flooded with encouraging messages on social media. More important, he’s heard from many people who have decided to get tested for HIV – or at least practice safer sex. “A lot of good seems to be coming out of it as well,” he says, “which is all the better.”

Donato, 51, has always attended charity events, but lately he has been increasing his visibility. Earlier this month, he spoke at the AIDS Walk in Los Angeles, hitting up his 130,000 Twitter followers for donations to AIDS charities. He also does a webcast recap of each episode of Couples Therapy on his website, with the subscription proceeds going to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Last week, Donato joined other reality stars – including former Bachelor Bob Guiney – in a new initiative to help fight the childhood-obesity epidemic. Pocket Protein Kidz, created by MTV Road Rules alum Mark Long, seeks to replace high-carb, high-sugar snacks with a protein-packed diet.

Long has teamed up with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers to produce and distribute more than 150,000 protein packs to help children in need. (They plan to make more after the initial offering.) The program, which is partnered with the charities Feeding America and Center for Youth, is in its crowdfunding stage.

“Mark’s a very good friend of mine, and I think what he’s doing is fantastic,” says Donato. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”

So will he continue being a reality-show villain? “It doesn’t matter what people think of me,” he tells PEOPLE. “I have a platform for this amount of time, and I want to use it for something good.”

Couples Therapy airs Wednesday nights (9 p.m. ET) on VH1.

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