By: Sarah Hooper, intern, ADAP Advocacy Association, and senior at East Carolina University
The decision to disclose an HIV status has become more common over the last decade, but challenges remain. Namely, HIV-related stigma. Dating back to 1991 with the disclosure by Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr., celebrities sharing their HIV status has helped to change societal attitudes. In late 2019, Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas announced he was HIV positive, with the end goal to make sure that people understood HIV did not weaken him as a person. (The Guardian).
The stigma surrounding HIV has often created the false narrative of ‘this is the end’ - which is anything but true! Thomas used his massive media celebrity platform to speak, not only for himself, but others with living with HIV. Thomas wants to educate the world using hope and resiliency to end the negative stigma associated with HIV.
Thomas is a big name within sports in the United Kingdom, and the announcement of his HIV status came just prior to the news about his marriage to Stephen Williams-Thomas. Revealing his sexuality in the world of rugby back in the early 2000s made headlines but coming out with HIV in 2019 felt just as big, according to Thomas.
|Photo Source: Huffington Post UK|
“It felt much more shameful,” Thomas said. “This was something that I felt people wouldn’t understand.”
Prior to announcing his HIV diagnosis in 2019, Thomas said he ran into issues with the press wanting to reveal his diagnosis before he could tell his parents. The Sun ran a story about an ‘unnamed sports player’ who would reveal he had HIV, which upset Thomas greatly.
Thomas was disappointed in the media’s response to his HIV diagnosis, and said the media still has an appetite to expose people as HIV positive. One example of this was the negative reaction to Magic Johnson’s announcement of his HIV positive diagnosis in the 1990s, when HIV was still unfamiliar to many. Even with proper treatment and prevention, HIV still carries a stigma for many people, which Thomas felt.
“I actually feel kind of empowered and feel like I live a freer, happier life when I don’t have secrets. I’m quite happy to shine a light on the negative moments in my life,” Thomas said.
|Photo Source: On Top Magazine|
Thomas was recently tapped by ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust to serve as the spokesman for Tackle HIV, which is a new public awareness and education initiative.
Said Thomas about the Tackle HIV campaign, "Since finding out I have HIV I have learnt so much about the virus and about how it affects people living with it. HIV is still misunderstood and because of that stigma still exists. I have heard first hand stories of how deeply this stigma and self-stigma affects people living with HIV and I am determined to change this. That’s why I have started the Tackle HIV campaign."
Learn more at https://tacklehiv.org.
Celebrity transparency about HIV status has increased in the past three decades, which mirrors the general public. The announcements by celebrities, like Thomas, demonstrates that more needs to be done to combat HIV-related stigma. But every positive message (no pun intended) chips away at the negative attitudes still persisting today among some people. Thomas sharing his HIV journey, like the stories shared by many of our family, friends, and neighbors, serve as a reminder that an HIV-positive diagnosis and living a full, healthy and successful life don't have to be mutually exclusive.
- Godfrey, C. (2020, June 08). Gareth Thomas on coming out as HIV positive: 'It was my right to tell my family – not somebody else's'. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/jun/08/gareth-thomas-on-coming-out-as-hiv-positive-it-was-my-right-to-tell-my-family-not-somebody-elses
Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.