Former Welsh pro-rugby player Gareth Thomas came out last year as HIV-positive after learning that tabloids planned to out him. He made the announcement in an emotional video, where he vowed to break the stigma around the virus.
One year later, Thomas has been honored for his work doing just that.
The acclaimed ex-rugger was honored recently at the British LGBT awards for his efforts to spread HIV awareness and vocal advocacy for LGBTQ athletes. Thomas came out in 2009, and at the time, our Cyd Zeigler compared the magnitude of his announcement to Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps coming out in the U.S.
Thomas retired from rugby in 2011. During his accomplished career, he made over 100 test match appearances, and won four rugby league caps for Wales.
These days, Thomas spends his time eradicating harmful myths surrounding HIV. He’s created the TackleHIV campaign, which seeks to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Thomas says both tasks are a necessity when it comes to eliminating HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.
In a recent interview with the Gay Times, Thomas said he originally thought getting diagnosed with HIV was a death sentence. While modern medicine has come a long way — the advent of antiretroviral medications have turned HIV into a manageable chronic illness for those with access to them — the stigma remains.
A survey taken this year found 61 percent of respondents said if they knew a partner was HIV-positive, they would end or consider ending the relationship.
“People don’t understand the facts about HIV,” Thomas told the Gay Times. “It feels like over the last 20 years or so, medicine and science has been this underground movement of success, but it’s never really been celebrated or publicized of how advanced it’s become, so people just don’t know.”
With his new initiative, Thomas is aiming to close the knowledge gap. At the virtual award ceremony, Prince Harry complimented Thomas’ work, saying it’s inspired him to raise awareness as well.
In due time, hopefully there will no longer be a stigma around HIV, so HIV-positive people aren’t blackmailed and discriminated against. Thomas is doing his best to change that, telling his powerful story to one person at a time.