Gareth Thomas has hailed the bravery and positivity of fellow HIV campaigner Becky Mitchell who joined forces with the former Wales international at the weekend to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon.
As a part of his Tackle HIV campaign, Gareth and Becky completed the challenge with a team of campaign supporters - some of whom are HIV positive - to raise awareness and understanding and to help address the stigma that continues to exist with HIV.
Gareth, Becky, and the Tackle HIV team wanted to demonstrate that living with HIV is not a barrier to achieving anything.
“I think what Becks is representing in this team is the diversity of people living with HIV because there’s such a stigma against women who live with HIV,” said Gareth.
“I can only empathise with Becks; I can’t imagine what it’s like because I can’t experience that.
“I think what Becks proudly represents is the diversity of people and the understanding that it’s not just gay men or black African men or black African women.
“If it’s not them there’s not just this stigma but there’s also the assumption that you can’t be HIV positive because you’re not in the category that we associate it with.
“People don’t associate HIV with women – why it’s important to educate people more.”
Becky, 45, was recklessly infected seven years ago by a partner who was subsequently prosecuted and sent to prison.
Becky from Teignmouth in Devon, who works for the Environment Agency and is also a personal trainer, said she initially thought she might have a bad cold or flu before she was diagnosed.
Mitchell works with the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) and was the face of Women and HIV: Invisible No Longer, a THT and Sophia Forum project she co-produced and was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list and was appointed an MBE.
Gareth was also running to raise much needed funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust who are Tackle HIV’s charity partner.
Tackle HIV is fortunate enough to enjoy the support of Prince Harry, Sir Elton John and many from across the sporting and celebrity world, including Shane Williams and Sally Gunnell, who both agreed to run the half marathon with him.
— Tackle HIV (@TackleHIV) October 10, 2021
“There are many women that are HIV positive that are going on to have children that are virus-free, so things have changed, and I’ve always said that this virus doesn’t discriminate,” said Becky.
“It doesn’t care who you are or what you are, it’s just a virus, and if you have sex with somebody that doesn’t know their status maybe and it’s unprotected then anybody is at risk.
“That’s why it’s important to break down these assumptions and stereotypes in general.”
Gareth added: “I think moving forward we all have a part to play by being educated about it because if we are educated about it we’ll understand the diversity of the people living with it, we’ll understand the importance of getting tested and therefore not transmitting it.
“Most new transmissions will come from people that don’t know their status anyway.
“This is a subject I care about because I live with it and I understand we live in a world where there’s discrimination against people with AIDs, but we’re doing it because we don’t want other people to live with HIV.
“We want other people to be aware so by doing what we’re doing it’s relevant and everybody should listen.
“Not because we want sympathy, we don’t want people to feel sorry for us, we just don’t want other people to go through it. We want people to not have the fear of getting tested so transmissions rates go down.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas, in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust to tackle stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visitwww.tacklehiv.org and follow @TackleHIV