By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Oct 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Former rugby international Gareth Thomas became one of the first openly HIV-positive people to appear on the cover of a mainstream British magazine on Thursday, a move hailed as chipping away at the stigma over the virus.
The Welsh sports star said revealing that he was gay and living with HIV sometimes left him feeling “a little exposed” but he had no regrets over going public in the Men’s Health UK magazine cover story.
“I walk down the street and there’s that realisation that people who I don’t even know are aware of my medical history, my sexuality,” he told the magazine.
“That can be quite invasive. But the reality is I’m in a better place now than I ever was when people didn’t know my sexuality, so I’d rather it be this way than how it was before.”
Thomas came out as gay in 2009 and in September this year announced that he had been living with HIV “for years,” as he appealed for support to “break the stigma” around HIV.
The 45-year-old former Wales captain, among the few celebrities to reveal they have the virus, said he decided to go public after receiving potential blackmail emails threatening to reveal his status.
Thomas said he stepped up his training regimen after being diagnosed in an effort to counter stereotypes that people living with HIV are weak and sickly.
“My mental images of people living with HIV were always frail, always weak,” he admitted. “I wanted to display the total opposite of that.”
Thomas was capped 100 times for Wales in an international career spanning 1995-2007 and also captained the British and Irish Lions in 2005.
His magazine cover was hailed by LGBT+ and HIV campaigners as a step forward in challenging stigma over the virus.
“What better way for Gareth to show how much HIV has changed than by showing his muscles on the front of Men’s Health?,” said Debbie Laycock, the head of policy at leading British HIV/AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.
“Gareth has already done so much to change people’s perceptions of what an HIV diagnosis means and it’s brilliant to see him be the first person openly living with HIV on the front cover of the magazine all about being fit and active.” (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Chris Michaud. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)