legal nightmares

Rugby legend Gareth Thomas just had to pay almost $100K to fight off persecution from an outdated HIV law

Gareth Thomas, rugby, coming out, HIV positive

Gareth Thomas, the first out gay pro-rugby player in the U.K., just paid £75,000 ($92,407.50) to settle a court case brought by a former partner who accused Thomas of giving him HIV.

But while Thomas says the settlement is a great relief to him, it’s also a reminder of just how screwed up, ineffective, and downright wrong HIV criminalization laws are in the first place.

In a lawsuit, Ian Baum, a police officer who dated Thomas between 2013 and 2016, said he was HIV-negative when they first met. He claimed Thomas took HIV medications from bottles with the labels ripped off and deceptively told Baum that they were just “multivitamins.”

Baum said that upon learning that the pills were actually HIV medication, he immediately got a rapid HIV test and “went into shock” when he realized that he himself was HIV-positive.

Thomas “failed to take reasonable care” to not transmit the virus by encouraging Baum to have “unprotected sexual intercourse,” the lawsuit claimed.

Thomas’s alleged deceit and Baum’s seroconversion caused Baum “serious physical and psychological injury,” the suit added.

“Since that time the defendant has portrayed himself as a spokesperson for LGBT issues without ever revealing that he deceptively transmitted HIV to the claimant in 2014,” the lawsuit stated, according to The Guardian.

Gareth publicly revealed his HIV-positive status in 2019 after a British tabloid threatened to out him.

According to English law, a person who knowingly has HIV can be found guilty of “reckless HIV transmission” if they have condomless sex with and transmit the virus to an HIV-negative partner who is unaware of the poz person’s status.

The law fails in many ways, but particularly in its sole focus on condoms. Numerous studies have shown that HIV-positive people on medical treatment often achieve “undetectable” viral levels in the blood, making them nearly incapable of transmitting the virus to others.

A person can have “safe sex” not just by using condoms, but by being undetectable or by using pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEP), medications that can greatly reduce a person’s chances of contracting HIV.

Furthermore, the law doesn’t require the accuser and the accused to have their HIV viruses compared in a “phylogenetic analysis” to see if their viruses are similar or different. If the two viruses are different, then this proves that there was no HIV transmission between the partners.

But even if they appear similar, this doesn’t constitute proof “beyond reasonable doubt” since both people could’ve gotten the virus from a similar person or peer group.

HIV criminalization laws were created during the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when millions of people were dying of the disease and far less was known about the virus and its prevention. The laws have disproportionately been used to target Black men and other men of color.

Medical professionals have said the laws do nothing to stop the spread of the virus and may even encourage people not to get tested for fear that the knowledge could subject them to criminal penalties.

As of 2022, 35 states in the U.S. still have laws that criminalize HIV exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“After more than 40 years of HIV research and significant biomedical advancements to treat and prevent HIV transmission, many state laws are now outdated and do not reflect our current understanding of HIV,” the CDC wrote.

In a January 30 Twitter thread about his settlement with Baum, Thomas wrote, “This is not an admission of liability or guilt. I maintain my innocence in all the meritless allegations.”

“In personal injury cases like this the accuser has no financial risks even if they lose, but for me winning had huge financial implications,” he continued.“Paying £75,000 plus costs now is nothing compared to the many multiples of that sum I’d have had to pay to successfully defend myself in court.”

“For my own mental health and that of my family, this closure and acceptance from the other side is a hugely positive outcome,” he said, thanking his family, friends, supporters, and sponsors.