Gareth Thomas (Pic: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com)
Gareth Thomas, the world’s first openly gay professional rugby player, has received a flood of support after being forced to announce that he is living with HIV.
The retired 45-year-old former Welsh rugby captain addressed his HIV status in an interview with the Sunday Mirror before posting an emotional video on social media. He is said to be the first UK sportsman to disclose he has the virus.
Shockingly, Thomas told the newspaper that he had no choice but go public with his HIV status because he’d been blackmailed.
“I’ve been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It’s sick and I’ve been through hell,” he said.
In the video, an angry and then teary-eyed Thomas stated: “I am Gareth Thomas and I want to share my secret with you. Why? Because it’s mine to tell you, not the evils that make my life hell, threatening to tell you before I do…
“I’m living with HIV. That makes me extremely vulnerable but that does not make me weak.”
He said that even though he’d been forced to make the revelation, “Ï choose to fight, to educate and break the stigma around this subject. And that begins today.”
Thomas told the Sunday Mirror that at one point he had been suicidal about his HIV status. “I had a fear people would judge me and treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge. I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.”
He also, for the first time, revealed that he is married to husband of three years, Stephen, 56, and lives with him and Stephen’s daughter in Bridgend, Wales.
Today, the sports star takes his daily HIV medication to control the virus and is healthy and “undetectable” – which means that he cannot pass it on to his HIV negative husband.
To further highlight that he is both HIV positive and healthy, Thomas took part in Sunday’s Ironman Wales. He was cheered by onlookers who shouted “Go Gareth” as he competed in the gruelling event.
Thomas received widespread support on social media, both from fans and public figures. Prince William said on the Kensington Palace Instagram account: “Courageous as ever – legend on the pitch and legend off it. You have our support Gareth.”
Welsh rugby union player Shane Williams, who also took part in the Ironman triathlon, tweeted: “One of the bravest people I know! Love ya pal and see you on the beach! Let’s smash this.”
The British & Irish Lions Twitter account posted: “So much respect for your strength and courage. Wishing you all the best @gareththomas14.”
Thomas – a former British Lions captain and the most capped Welsh rugby player in history – came out as gay in December 2009. He announced his retirement from rugby in late 2011. In November last year, he was a victim of a gay-bashing incident in Cardiff.