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Gareth Thomas: Openly HIV-positive and a Fighter Against Stigmatization

(Blogmensgo, gay blog of 18 September 2019) Ten years after his coming-out, former rugby player Gareth Thomas revealed his HIV status on 14 September 2019. The former Welsh national rugby player, who ended his career in 2011, is the first British top athlete to come out as HIV-positive. He was also the first British national rugby player to come out as gay during his career.

In a Twitter video, Gareth Thomas revealed his HIV status and explained how he experienced it and why he made it public.

He prefers to publicize this fact himself over allowing a tabloid to do so after they had discovered his secret and blackmailed him. The BBC was planning to broadcast a documentary about the living rugby legend and the LGBT community on September 18, 2019, with Thomas’ consent and involvement.

The interview broadcast by the BBC is entitled Gareth Thomas: HIV in Me. Gareth Thomas decided to donate his interview remuneration to the Terrence Higgins Trust, an association that specializes in information, counseling, therapy and the dissemination of good HIV/AIDS practice.

With visible emotion, he reveals his HIV status on Twitter.

I'm living with HIV. Now you know this information, that makes me extremely vulnerable, but it does not make me weak […]. I choose to fight to educate and break the stigma around this subject. […] I’m asking you to help me to show that everyone lives in fear of people’s reactions and opinions, but that doesn’t mean we have to hide.
Gareth Thomas

The following day, even before the BBC broadcast of the documentary, Gareth Thomas revealed the in an interview with the Sunday Mirror (fee donated to the above-mentioned association as well) that he had known about his HIV status for years, but without giving an exact date. At that time he thought he had only a few years left to live, sobbed in the arms of the doctor, kept his HIV status secret – and thought of suicide.

But Gareth Thomas is an exceptional fighter, a top athlete with a hardened steel character. And as a great champion he has decided to face his HIV status and not to let it get him down. First with one tablet a day and now with the help of the media and social networks. With the aim to bring the truth to light, to fight prejudices about seropositive people and to overcome the associated stigma. In short: As a good captain, he goes ahead proudly.

Many people live in fear and shame of having HIV, but I refuse to be one of them now. We need to break the stigma once and for all. I’m speaking out because I want to help others and make a difference.
Gareth Thomas

Like many people, Thomas did not know anyone with HIV or AIDS when he found out about his own HIV status. He knew almost nothing about the medical details and the medications that inhibit his infection and no longer make him contagious.

Without the blackmail attempt of a tabloid newspaper he probably would not have made his HIV status public. And then he says he's afraid of people's reactions.

But the truth is I’m still scared even now of people finding out I’m living with HIV and I’m s****ing myself and feel petrified about what the reaction will be, because we still live in an era where HIV is not spoken about.
Gareth Thomas

Five years after the end of his rugby career Gareth (45) married his partner Stephen (56). The men didn't know each other when Gareth found out about his HIV status. Stephen is negative.

So far, Gareth Thomas has worked as a rugby consultant for a television station. He is also actively fighting against homophobia in football and has co-authored a 2018 amendment to prohibit homophobic insults at matches in general and in stadiums in particular.

Also in 2018, he was the victim of a homophobic attack. He decided to have the 16-year-old assailant sentenced to an alternative penance so that he could understand the consequences of his actions.

On September 15, shortly after his HIV status was announced, Thomas took part in an Ironman race: He wanted to prove that it is quite possible to be HIV-positive and healthy or even to practice top-class sport. Throughout the race he received standing ovations before finishing the Super Triathlon slightly after the winner – but on the applause display he was the winner.

Below is a long interview in which Gareth Thomas talks about his HIV status, the newspaper's blackmail attempt, his new state of mind (more militant than ever), his participation in the Ironman, his projects, his fight for better information about HIV/AIDS and against discrimination against people living with HIV…

Again it is the desire to fight prejudices against HIV/AIDS that is now leading to his renewed fight in the media. A part of the British royal family and government as well as many sports icons congratulated him on his efforts and encouraged him warmly.

Frank-S / MensGo

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