Australian Olympian Come Out About HIV
8/10/2012 2:30:00 PM
By Alex Garner
Gay Australian Silver Medalist Ji Wallace came about being HIV-positive in a letter he wrote to the Star Observer. Wallace is a trampolinist who won a silver medal at the Sydney Olympic games in 2000. Another gay, HIV-positive Olympic athlete, Greg Louganis, inspired him to reveal his HIV status publicly. Could this be the start of something? Might Wallace’s’ coming out inspire other poz public figures to do the same?
The list of openly HIV-positive athletes or celebrities is rather paltry. In this day and age, when coming out about being LGBT can mean a career boost, or at least a chance to compete on Dancing With The Stars, what does it mean that so few people have chosen to come out about HIV?
I would guess that a large part of it is the stigma associated with having HIV. Stigma has changed very little over the past thirty years, except maybe it’s become more insidious. Others believe that their HIV status is a private medical issue and so they see no reason to publicly disclose.
Whether or not to publicly come out about HIV is each individual’s personal decision. However, there is no denying the impact that coming out can have.
“I felt inspired to write. I too am an Olympic medal winner living with HIV,” Wallace said. “Being seen does have value. A voice does have value. I have the support of my boyfriend, my great friends and my loving parents. Many do not and this is, in part, for them.”
We understand the harm that stigma can do and we know that lots of people in this country and around the globe, live lives of fear, shame, and isolation because of their HIV status. We also know that when more and more people come out about being gay, trans or HIV-positive, things change. Things may not change right away but eventually people around us begin to understand the different experiences of others. That has an impact on our culture and our politics.
I hope that Wallace’s coming out will inspire other people, famous or not, to feel comfortable to come out as HIV-positive. It can be scary, painful, or risky, just as coming out as gay was. But it’s also extremely liberating to live a life out and unashamed, free of secrets and self imposed stigma. Bravo, Mr. Wallace. I am sure you are leaping quite high these days and you don’t need the help of a trampoline.
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