British rugby star Gareth Thomas is speaking out about a tabloid violating his medical privacy when they outed him as living with HIV to his parents. The candid interview is part of a promotional campaign for his new BBC Wales documentary about living with HIV.
The show, entitled Gareth Thomas: HIV and Me, airs today in the U.K. According to the public broadcaster, it follows Thomas as he explains “how hiding the truth about his health left him feeling depressed and contemplating taking his own life” and shows him completing the Iron Man triathlon to dispel myths and stigma about how HIV affects — and doesn’t affect — a person’s life.
But none of this would have happened if a tabloid reporter had not contacted his parents to tell them that Thomas was living with HIV. If that information had not come out, he says, he would never have gone public.
Thomas has not identified the journalist or the paper they work for.
"Imagine what position that puts me in,” he told the show BBC Breakfast of the outing. I can never, ever, ever have that moment back with my mother and father of sitting down and telling them something so personal to me. I'm lucky that I have parents who love me and will support me through anything, but I deserved to have that moment with them."
Thomas lamented that the law doesn’t sufficiently protect people’s medical privacy from exploitative journalists. While U.K. law provides some forms of protection, tabloids are owned by companies so rich that many citizens cannot afford to challenge them.
“I haven't got the money to be able to fight a giant tabloid in court,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ interview took place the day before filming the conclusion of his documentary special, completing a 12-hour Iron Man triathlon.
Speaking to the BBC, Goldsmiths University journalism professor Angela Phillips said that British media is failing to uphold a standard of ethics. "They seem to have lost any sense of whether this story is going to do so much harm to the people whose background you're revealing that you shouldn't touch it with a barge pole," she said.
Greg Owen, co-founder of the group I Want PrEP Now, told Pink News that such outings can do real harm.
“A person living with HIV should always be in control of who they choose to tell and when,” Owen said. “We know Gareth struggled with his mental health and had dark times. The health and well-being of the person should always be a priority and take precedence.”
Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray urged caution when it comes to regulating the press, noting that the rich and powerful would love any excuse to clamp down on free expression. “There are always the sharks circling, the politicians, the rich, the powerful who would like to see that free press closed down,” he said.
But amid the controversy, Prince Harry showed his support for the athlete, writing on Instagram: "Gareth, you are an absolute legend! In sharing your story of being HIV+, you are saving lives and shattering stigma, by showing you can be strong and resilient while living with HIV."
But the people whose acceptance matters the most to Thomas are his parents’.
“All I can tell you,” he said, “is that I have the best parents on this planet because, to this day, they stand by me and believe in me.
All Thomas wants now, he said, is an apology from that journalist.