In an emotional video, Welsh former pro-rugby player Gareth Thomas came out as HIV-positive on Saturday. He said he felt “forced” to come out after learning that tabloids sought to publicly reveal his HIV status.
The threatened media attention also compelled Thomas to reveal that he married his longtime boyfriend Steven three years ago. The two have been together for four-and-a-half years and Thomas said he revealed his HIV-status to Steven early on in their relationship. Thomas says Steven is HIV-negative.
“Gareth was forced to consult legal representatives and speak out about his diagnosis after a tabloid newspaper found out about his HIV status and sent reporters to his parents’ home. He explained: ‘I needed to take control of my life. When you have a secret that other people know about it makes you really vulnerable towards them. And I just I felt like I had no control over my own life.’”
In his video, Thomas says, “I want to share my secret with you. Why? Because it’s mine to tell you. Not the evil making my life hell, threatening to tell you before I do.”
He continues, “I am living with HIV. Now you have that information, that makes me extremely vulnerable, but it does not make me weak.”
After mentioning his recent participation in an Ironman triathlon, he concludes, “I choose to fight, to educate and break the stigma around this subject ... Everyone lives in fear of people’s reactions and opinions to something about them, but that doesn’t mean that we should have to hide.”
Here’s the video:
This Wednesday, BBC One Wales will air a program entitled “Gareth Thomas: HIV and Me” in which he’ll discuss his experiences with the disease.
Thomas’ admission is important seeing as the last big name sports stars to come out as HIV-positive were heterosexual NBA basketball player Magic Johnson in 1991 and heterosexual tennis great Arthur Ashe,. While Ashe announced his status in 1992, more than 12 years after he retired from the sport, Johnson, in contrast, continued playing in the U.S. until 1996.
Johnson and Ashe revealed their statuses at a time when there were far fewer HIV treatments, making their announcements ones of necessity for fear of becoming noticeably sick in the public eye.
Wales Online writes, “The 45-year-old is the first UK sportsman to reveal he has the virus.” But that doesn’t mean Thomas is the only HIV-positive athlete.
The advent of antiretroviral medications have turned HIV into a manageable chronic illness (for those who can access medication) leaving Thomas and other stars to privately manage their health... unless a tabloid threatens to out them.
In response to Thomas’ video, Ian Howley, Chief Executive of the U.K. Gay Men’s Health Project, wrote:
“The media needs to understand the impact forcing someone to publicly state their status can have. Sensationalizing a subject like HIV keeps us in the past. Living with HIV in 2019 should not be front page news. This media sensationalizing HIV will only stop others from disclosing their status. I hope we get to the stage when someone who is as public as Gareth declaring his HIV status is not news. Let’s work towards that.”