A prominent drag performer has revealed his HIV-positive status after a blackmail attempt from an ex-boyfriend.
Thomas Neuwirth, who performs as Conchita Wurst, said he has been HIV-positive for years and had no plans of publicly disclosing the diagnosis until a former paramour threatened to share his medical information without his consent.
“An ex-boyfriend is threatening me to go public with this private information and I will not give anyone the right to frighten me and affect my life in the future," Neuwirth wrote in German in an Instagram post, according to The New York Times.
He said he has been treating his HIV for many years and it is now undetectable, meaning his chances of spreading the virus are statistically small.
“I hope to show courage and take another step against the stigmatization of people with H.I.V.,” he added.
Neuwirth is not offering additional comment on the matter, according to a spokesperson.
Neuwirth uses he/him pronouns when discussing himself as a private individual, but uses she/her pronouns for references to the Wurst stage persona.
Neuwirth garnered international acclaim after competing for Austria on Eurovision in 2014 as Wurst. Her performance of “Rise Like a Phoenix” scored a victory for Austria, her home country. Neuwirth has since toured the world as Wurst, becoming an international gay icon.
Wolfgang Wilhelm, president of AIDS Hilfe Wien, an organization in Vienna that advocates for seropositive positive people, noted Neuwirth's bravery and the ongoing prejudice against people with HIV/AIDS.
“That the outing of Conchita was caused by blackmailing shows how much people still fear discrimination and stigma. Zero discrimination is what the global H.I.V. community is fighting for,” he told the Times. “This is still one of the most ambitious targets to reach."
In the United States, a plethora of legal and social issues surround the confidentiality and disclosure of a person's HIV status.
"Disclosing one's HIV status is still widely perceived as socially dangerous," says the website for The Center for HIV Law and Policy, an HIV/AIDS advocacy group.
"Similarly, another great risk people living with HIV face is the inadvertent or improper disclosure of their status which can result in denial of employment, violence, and many other collateral consequences."
[Photo: Conchita Wurst by Robert Marquardt / Getty Images]